By Elana Heideman, The Israel Forever Foundation
Every year as Rosh HaShanah arrives, Jews around the world come together for their annual commemoration of the birth of the world. We contemplate how this year’s celebration will be different than the year before, who will join us at our chag table for our festive meal, who we’ll see in shul that we haven’t seen since… well, the last time we gathered as a community. We use this chag to honor our relationship with friends, family, our Jewish identity, and of course with God. We wish each other Chag Sameach and recite the same prayers, but often hope for a little something different in the coming year.
In Israel, the chagim (חגים) are a national celebration for religious and secular alike. The whole country becomes immersed in the spirit of renewal and of celebration, and schools, streets and homes are filled with the sights and sounds of the holiday. In addition to whatever religious observance one might practice in accordance with these days, there is an atmosphere of joy as we gather together with our loved ones and eat the delectable dishes – ripe with tradition, symbolism and of course flavor – that embody the bounty of our ancestral land.
Every different style of celebration in Israel in some way honors the deep biblical roots that remind us of our belonging to the land in which we are living. For Jews throughout the Diaspora, however, the emphasis of Rosh HaShanah is often devoid of this historical connection. There have even been articles and requests to eliminate references to Israel in their sermons or in family discussions on these holiest of days in the Jewish calendar, under the assumption that the only association possible is one of conflict and tension.
Indeed, the exact opposite is true. After thousands of years of living in exile, of praying for the return to Tzion, we should be reminded and should remind each other of the value of Israel and her meaningfulness in our lives every chance we get – as family, friends, as a community, bound together by our common connection to Israel in spite of the differences we may otherwise have.
This year we honor 5574 years since creation. Called the Feast of Trumpets in the Bible, the meaning of Rosh HaShanah implies a divine appointment, a time to meet with God. The liturgy and readings from the Torah serve as reminders of our mortality and personal responsibility we each bear for our behavior, and the shofar is intended to be a “wake up call” to the human conscience.
In the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, we each endeavor a personal Cheshbon Nefesh, “accounting of our soul.” We reflect on whether our lives have lived up to the expectations we set the previous year at this time. We review our deeds and thoughts over the past year, searching for a connection between our daily lives, our faith, and how we can translate this into meaningful conclusions that we can carry into the new year.
Indeed, Rosh HaShanah is a time of reconnecting – with ourselves, with each other, and our identity as Jews.
So how can we afford NOT to include also a reflection of how our connection to our ancient homeland can be emphasized, celebrated, strengthened in our hearts, in our homes, with our family and friends?
Just as we strive to establish meaningful connections through our personal reflection and observance, this day of significance in the Jewish tradition should remind us of our origins as a people and our shared heritage in spite of being scattered across the four corners of the earth.
Don’t let the media overpower your relationship with our ancient home and the society and culture that are now thriving there.
Don’t let politics divide you from the rest of Am Yisrael.
Don’t let the often-distorted representations of the conflict or demonized versions of Israeli perspectives sway you against the one and only Jewish State in the world.
Wherever you may be in the world, there is a connection that is just right for you. It is our obligation as Jews to delve deeper and seek it out.