Having my birthday fall on or between the Jewish New Year – Rosh HaShanah – and the Day of Atonement – Yom Kippur – causes me to celebrate differently than others do on their special day. From a positive viewpoint, I have the annual opportunity to share it with family and friends; my birthday is never forgotten. But, from a selfish and more negative perspective, I cannot enjoy it fully because I cannot escape the seriousness of this time of the Jewish year.
Rosh HaShanah is like an alarm clock. It offers a loud “wake up call” to Jews around the world. Literally, with the sound of the shofar – the ram’s horn – that is blown in synagogue, but also figuratively with its messages. We are reminded that God completed Creation on this day and, as such, we each are held accountable for and judged by our actions. What we say and what we do matter; and God is the final arbiter who decides our fate.
Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are referred to, in Jewish tradition, as the Days of Awe – Yamim Nora’im. They also are called the Ten Days of Repentance – Asseret Yamay Teshuvah. In either case, these names signify our opportunity and challenge (over the ten-day period) to reflect back on a year’s worth of successful and failed endeavors, and positive and negative behaviors, with honesty and integrity; all in order to refocus and redirect our lives.
I feel compelled to take this auspicious time seriously. I self-examine and question… In the past year, did I do my very best in all that I undertook? Did I help people? Was I truthful and trustworthy? Did I behave morally and ethically? Was I a reliable, responsible and loyal daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend, colleague, and employee? What do I need to work on and do better next year? How do I become the best “Me” that I can be?
While I do my best to celebrate each of my birthdays, I feel compelled to use this time for solemn, sincere reflection and introspection. I force myself to break away from daily routines to critically evaluate my thoughts, behaviors, actions, and choices. For me, September is a good time to plan out the next year of my life and a very appropriate way to observe Rosh HaShanah.
Yom Kippur, a day of fasting, is a horrible day on which to have a birthday. (Fortunately, it doesn’t happen too often for me!) Rosh HaShanah, however, includes the custom of eating sweet foods. Birthday cake is a great way to celebrate the end of our festive meal, but we begin it with apples dipped in honey. This ritual symbolizes our hope that we will be blessed with a sweet and happy New Year.
So, in recognition of my fifty-first birthday, I wish you the time for reflection and redirection that will yield a year that is full of blessings, good deeds, and sweet rewards.
Shanah tovah u’mitukah!
שָׁנָה טוֹבָה וּמְתוּקָה