A Sweet New Year

This post is part of an archived series of blogs called The LeVine Line, written by former Ambassador Suzan G. LeVine during her time at U.S. Embassy Bern.

24 September 2014

Tonight starts Rosh Hashana – the Jewish New Year.

Shana Tova!  A Sweet New Year to all!

This will be my first time spending the holiday outside of the United States and, even though I’m missing our community back in Seattle, this experience helps us feel even more a part of a global community.  It reminds me of the thousands of years of heritage we will be commemorating and experiencing over the coming days.  Because of that connection to my heritage and history, I will be able to attend services and know the tunes, the blessings and, while some of it will invariably be different, when the shofar blasts – it will touch my soul and the souls of those around me just as deeply as if I were anywhere on this planet.

Below are the top 5 things I really get out of this holiday (and the time between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur – the days of atonement).  SO – as you either celebrate Rosh Hashana or learn about it for the first time – I hope you’re able to keep some of these concepts in mind. Who knows, they might even be useful.

  • Cheshbon Nefesh (technically means “accounting of the soul” – but also is like a “soul receipt” – which sounds like a good band name). This is the concept of looking back at the prior year to do the equivalent of your personal and spiritual review. Did you achieve your objectives set the prior year? Where might you need some work? Where did things exceed objectives?
  • Speaking of objectives: a concept called This Year’s Focus has been a way for me, each year since I was 18, to have a singular objective and to keep things simple and compelling. Last year, well, actually, it’s been my journey for several years, was “being present”.  But not just in mind or even in body.  I learned that both the Hebrew and Chinese words for “attention” or being present have to do with the heart (Sim Lev is the Hebrew for “attention”).  This means more readily removing distractions like cell phones, computers and multi-tasking at key moments with my family, and other communities with which I want to be present.

This year – my focus is on Trust and Openness.  In my personal life, my civic life and my professional life I am now in a place where I have amazing people around me on whom I depend deeply and who I need to (and do) trust.  At the same time, I need to show that I am worthy of others’ trust.  As I sit in services this year and then check in on how I’m doing over the year, I will be thinking about how to demonstrate my trust in others as well as my trustworthiness. I will also be thinking about what, in my heart or my world, might impede trust and how to dissipate those impediments. Other years’ foci have included: forgiving myself/cutting myself some slack, not judging others, taking my head up out of the sand, etc…

  • Tabula Rasa:  I love this idea of having a clean slate each year.  Of course, you have to work for that by asking for and/or granting forgiveness.  For those wracked by guilt, this is like doing a 10 day cleansing without the green beverages!  And – what a cool thing to do for/with kids: making space for and teaching saying sorry and forgiveness.
  • A mini-death: on Yom Kippur, you’re supposed to fast as well as not wear anything that was once alive (i.e. – leather shoes).  You are supposed to also wear white (even after labor day).  This is to signify a burial shroud.  Think about this concept – dying in order to experience rebirth & a clean slate.  Intense…
  • A Wake Up Call: literally.  Remember the scene in Harry Potter when he selects his personal wand (or it finds him) at the wand shop?  I had the same experience when, at age 12, my parents let me loose in a shofar shop (a shofar is a horn you blow on the the New Y) on Ben Yehuda in Jerusalem.  After trying every one in the shop, I left with the shofar whose sound and shape most deeply resonated with me (it’s from an African Kudu).  Since my 2nd year of college, I have had the honor, privilege, and responsibility of blowing shofar every year for my community.  The tradition is rich in terms of the meaning of the shofar.  For me, blowing the shofar comes down to a way to channel my soul through the horn to wake everyone up down to their kishkes and to break down the proverbial walls blocking us in our lives.

L’Shanah Tova!