liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
[personal profile] liv
[personal profile] mathcathy offered a very thought-provoking prompt: Reflections on the beginning of a new year, both calendar and Jewish - compare and contrast.

I think in theory Jewish new year is a time for contemplation and self-examination, and secular new year is time for having fun with my friends. In reality it doesn't always work out like that.

Jewish New Year sits in the calendar after a month of more intense and inward-focused liturgy, and begins the ten Days of Awe leading up to the Day of Atonement, the most solemn day of the year. It's a season where you're supposed to identify sins and shortfalls, and seek forgiveness from anyone you have wronged, and undertake a work of change to be a better person who won't commit the same sins again the following year. Then on the day itself the liturgy contains several insertions referring to God's kingship and to forgiveness of sins, as well as poetry which is supposed to aid in contemplation. (Being Ashkenazi, my prayers have minimal poetry beyond the basic prayers for the rest of the year.) There's a switch of mood between the morning service and the additional service, from triumphal and celebratory (solemn celebration more than wild partying type of celebration) to the beginning of the Ten Days which are really intensely about repentance. The second day of the two-day festival includes the Tashlich ceremony, where you empty your pockets of crumbs and debris, symbolic of sins and bad habits, and cast them into flowing water. And the Days of Awe culminate in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement itself, a major fast where the whole community confesses our sins collectively, and we think about mortality and remember our dead and our martyrs. There's also a psychodrama reenacting the service of atonement as it used to be conducted in the Temple, the one day of the year when the High Priest could enter the holiest part of the Temple and pronounce God's name out loud.

What actually happens is that I end up in charge of running all these major services; there are a lot of them, and because of their central position in the liturgy, a lot of people put a lot of weight on this particular set of services. It's traditional to complain about the people who only come to synagogue once a year, and there are some, but honestly a lot of what swells the numbers is that everybody comes to synagogue on the same day, whereas for other services you're only going to get a proportion of the community on any given day. Just about every year I intend to get all the preparation done a month ahead of time, so that I can spend the season in contemplation and reflection as is traditional. And every year I end up in a last-minute panic with sermons to write and Torah readings to prepare and rushing around trying to get members of the community to volunteer for various roles. I'm still at the stage where it would in many ways be quicker and easier just to run everything myself but I'm against doing that because it's not sustainable if the community depend on me entirely. Organizing and training inexperienced volunteers is a lot of work. Once it comes to the day of the New Year itself, I am concentrating on leading the community prayers and that can leave very little room for personal introspection or spiritual connection.

The liturgy is really beautiful and in many ways does carry me even if I haven't had time to prepare spiritually. The texts that I recognize from the past three decades of new years remind me of the times when I've been a participant rather than an organizer, and set off all kinds of memories. Some of the poetry is so dense with textual allusions and clever word-plays that it's hard to really make sense of it even with the reasonably good standard of Hebrew that I have. But some of it speaks to me even so. This year I held the community's full attention at We declare how profound is the holiness of this day which is as it should be, but there were a few places where I had to hold back tears for my own sake.

My experience of the Jewish New Year is affected by the fact that it always coincides with the start of term, and there's a harvest festival almost immediately after it. That does mean that my life reflects the idea of newness, I feel ready for a fresh start and the calendar matches the rhythm of my year.(I've been on the academic year calendar basically all my life!) But it also means that I'm always too busy to really appreciate the season properly, and I probably always will be.

The secular New Year, in contrast, doesn't really feel like a turning point for me. I'm always in the middle of marking and setting exams, and trying to recover from the very long autumn term. Also it can often feel like by the time you get to New Year, everyone (including me) is partied out from the Christmas season. I've never really been one for loud, boozy, crowded parties either. So my ideal New Year is to use the time off work to spend quiet time with friends or family. Many years that does happen; I just stayed in with my parents the year of the big millennium celebrations, for example.

That said, if I get invited to a party by people I like, and I can make the transport happen, I often find myself saying yes, and I've generally had a really good time when I do go to such parties. My Cambridge crowd have a really nice tradition of a New Year's Eve party which yes, does involve drinking but not to excess and not as an excuse for boorish behaviour. So for the last several years I've been attending that, and it's always really pleasant and fun, with good conversations, and marking the calendar change by listening to the 'bongs' on the radio and singing Auld Lang Syne. And walking home to [personal profile] jack's place a few hours after midnight; not having to worry too much about transport or accommodation makes it seem a lot more relaxing than other NYE options might be.

I don't really make new year resolutions, because evidence shows that they're not a good way to achieve behavioural change. So I often don't expect the secular New Year to be particularly about introspection or contemplation. But what often happens is that my online community make posts with retrospectives of the past year, and talking about their hopes and goals for the coming year. And I really enjoy being part of that conversation, so I often join in even though in theory it's more at the Jewish New Year that I expect to be in that mode. It's often a great bonus to see posts from people who've been fairly quiet over the rest of the year and have decided to use the calendar change as a motivation to provide some insight into their lives. And just looking back over the year, not with a focus on sin and self-improvement, but just thinking about how it's gone and what I particularly want to remember is often an exercise I find beneficial.

So I suppose in both cases, I have my own ideas about how I might like to mark the calendar change, but those ideas are tempered by my connections and interactions with my communities. Which works quite nicely as a theme for my life in general, not just new years.

[January Journal masterlist]
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Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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