One response says, "No, not really, because January 1 is not a Jewish New Year." In fact, January 1 was often, in Eastern Europe, a time of pogroms and riots against the Jewish community. Besides, Jewish tradition tells us that there are four Jewish new years in our calendar. In a 3rd century text known as the Mishnah, the opening of tractate Rosh Hashanah teaches, "The four new years are: (1) On the first of Nisan [before Pesach], the new year for the kings and for the festivals; (2) on the first of Elul [the month before Rosh Hashanah], the new year for the tithing of animals; Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Shimon say, on the first of Tishrei; (3) on the first of Tishrei [our celebration of Rosh Hashanah], the new year for years, for the Sabbatical years and for the Jubilee years and for the planting and for the vegetables; (4) on the first of Shevat, the new year for the trees according to the words of the House of Shammai; the house of Hillel says, on the fifteenth thereof [Tu b'Shevat]." With all of these "new years" to celebrate and acknowledge in our calendar already, do we also need to acknowledge January 1 as "New Year's Day?"
Another response would say, "Meh, why not?" Each day we awaken to life has the capacity to bring something special, unexpected, wonderful, or challenging into our lives. Each day gives us an opportunity to reflect on how we have lived in the past, what about our lives we wish to change, how we hope to continue growing, even in those moments when life hurts. So if "New Year's Day," even if it isn't a traditional Jewish celebration, brings an opportunity for deeper consideration, an embrace of new opportunities and strengthened resolve, I would say, Go for it.
My word choice of "resolve" over "resolution" is purposeful. To me, "resolution" suggests "finished/completed," but the word "resolve" suggests the much harder work of engaging in the effort to change. How many New Year's "resolutions" are broken in the first 72 hours of the year? In contrast, how many of us exercise the "resolve" to keep moving forward when life presents us with imposing obstacles?
Personally, 2019 brings a host of expected challenges -- our bittersweet departure from Temple Avodat Shalom, our resettling in Sydney, Australia, an embrace of a new school for Hannah and Emily, and new career opportunities for Lisa and me. And then there is the unexpected, those moments for which we cannot prepare, sometimes don't ever realize are happening, and that we simply need to meet head-on with grace, courage and dignity.
I enter 2019 still reflecting on 2018, which turned out to be a year of enormous growth for me, as I spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on childhood memories and deep wounds. (We all have them). I wrote personal essays, short stories, and (for the first time in my life) poetry. I read nearly fifty books. I traveled to seven countries, and I cried, a lot. It was a full year.
My favorite new word from 2018 was proprioception, "the sense of the relative position of one's own parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement." I have, for most of my life, struggled with the sense of being present in my body, and with understanding my body in the space of the world around me. With the help of an occupational therapist, I spent 2018 becoming more comfortable and confident in my body, and learning how to let go of the ground beneath me. If someone had told me on January 1, 2018, that I would, for the first time in my life, jump off the diving board with Lisa, Hannah, and Emily cheering me on (June), turn upside down on a bungee harness (October - thanks Linda Pereira), or use the monkey bars in the gym (November - thanks Wayne Alperti), I would have looked at them and said, "Me? You have to be joking." Never say never.
We cannot know what 2019 will bring. But maybe, just maybe, we can begin with a few words of hope.
May you meet the year ahead embraced by and embracing loved ones around you - family, friends, colleagues, and community.
Where life is sweet, may you share and bask in that sweetness, however fleeting it may be.
Where life is painful, may you be present and sensitive, allowing others to feel their pain, listening to what they need, helping them as they require, respecting the power and the personal nature of their journey, without minimizing their suffering or trying to fix it for them.
May you meet the expected challenges of life as best as you can, and regarding those unexpected challenges, may you meet those moments too, and trust that there are fellow travelers and companions on this mystifying journey of life, right there beside you, who want to walk with you, and hold you.
From my heart to yours...Happy New Year.
Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1:1.