Living a Sweet New Year Every Day

by | Sep 27, 2019 | Hillel Ontario, Jewish Holiday | 0 comments

“L’Shana Tova!” These are words that we utter every autumn during the high holidays as we wish one another a sweet new year.

To me, this cozy, warm, inviting phrase is at the epicenter of the meaning of Rosh Hashanah. To wish one another a sweet new year is one of my favourite aspects of the holiday. But what does this actually look like in reality? There are so many ways in which we can embody “L’Shana Tova” today, and every day of the upcoming year:

  • Seeking out the activities, traditions, and food to which we  feel connected is one way to practice living the sweet life. For me, nothing screams “L’Shana Tova” more than when I am feeding my friends and family home-cooked meals. There is a lot of love to be found in sharing a meal together. This Rosh Hashanah, I am making my grandma’s recipe for Zwetschgnkuchen (a German plum cake that certain Ashkenazi Jewish families eat during Rosh Hashanah) which my family always has around the holidays. It is delicious, sweet, contains the practice of eating a new fruit of the season (a custom for some people during Rosh Hashanah), and says to those at the dinner table…. “Come, let’s eat, and experience the good things in life together!” As for how I am bringing this particular form of sweetness to my role at Hillel this year? If you ever see me at an event where food is served and I’m not trying to hand you a plate of food, you ought to be concerned! At Queen’s Hillel, I want us to bond over our shared interests and connections as we celebrate throughout the year.

 

  • Another way to create a sweet year is to recognize when our actions come from a place of kindness. Creating a sweeter year also means acknowledging when we have said something hurtful and “making right our wrongs”. I think I can speak for all of us in saying that we all have said or done something harmful at one point or another. It is a part of being human. Yet, by focusing on creating more sweetness in the world rather than on negative behaviours, we are embodying Jewish values.

 

  • For many of us, a sweet new year is embodied in the images of apples and honey. Seeing them on our tables can remind us that having a good core and inner voice is essential to how we share ourselves with the outside world. If we are not sweet on the inside, then even if we cover it up, it still won’t be appealing on the outside. I mean, we’ve all had that one apple that was way too tart or mushy, and no amount of honey could make it better! So taking stock and looking inwards allows for an outward projection of goodness. The beauty of Rosh Hashanah is that we are able to return again and again to our favourite foods, to symbolic motifs, and to the process of taking stock of ourselves and our lives… and how lucky are we?! It is a sweet blessing indeed.

At the close of 5779, and the start of 5780, let me be the first to wish you a happy, healthy, and sweet new year! I’d love to hear from you and how you aim to embody the ideas of L’Shana Tova in 5780!

Holocaust Remembrance Day 2023

Holocaust Remembrance Day 2023

In their research on listening to survivors of the Holocaust and other genocides, Bronwen E. Low and Emmanuelle Sonntag note listeners’ problematic tendencies towards one of two responses.  On the one hand, they can regard the narratives as so unfamiliar and foreign that they must be pushed away as overwhelming, untouchable, and inaccessible.  On the other, the stories can be seen as familiar, to the point that the listener cannot separate their own experiences and emotional response from what they take in.

But another, preferable response exists: Roger I. Simon and Claudia Eppert talk about a “chain of testimony” and suggest that listening imposes a duty on the listener.  Listening to personal testimony at the crossroads of memory and history “imposes particular obligations on those called to receive it – obligations imbued with the exigencies of justice, compassion, and hope that define the horizon for a world yet to be realized.”  In this way, bearing witness and listening to testimony demands a number of actions and responses, including that we “transport and translate stories of past injustices beyond their moment of telling by taking these stories to another time and space where they become available to be heard or seen.”

If we take Simon and Eppert’s charge seriously, as I believe we should, those of us who have been privileged to hear the direct testimony of survivors of the Holocaust.  Their words come not just with the specific knowledge they impart or the emotional impact they have on us – sorrow, anger, fear, horror – but with a duty, an obligation of some kind.  

On many of our campuses, this week is Holocaust Education Week, and this Friday marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  Given the significant number of Holocaust survivors and their descendants in Canada, the scheduled events and programs have a personal resonance for many of our students and their families, but their impact can be deep and meaningful for all of us, regardless of who we are and where we come from.  I encourage each of you to make time to participate in this week’s activities and to consider your place in the chain of testimony: what obligation does listening to narratives from the Holocaust place on you, and how do you carry those stories forward in time?

 

Weekly D’var: Shemot

Weekly D’var: Shemot

In this week’s parashah we learn the story of Moses, from his birth, through his flight from and eventual return to Egypt, to the acceptance of his role as leader of the Hebrew people.

After fleeing Egypt, for killing an Egyptian slave master, Moses was living rather peacefully as a shepherd in the land of Midian. The Torah describes for us Moses’s first interaction with G-d upon coming across a bush, “burning with a heart of fire [Exodus 3:3]”. G-d calls out to Moses and requests he take the Jewish people out of Egypt and eventually into the land of Israel. However, Moses argues with G-d, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh? Who am I that I should take the Jews out of Egypt? [Exodus 3:11]” After initially refusing four times, Moses eventually agrees to G-ds request, and as we know, the rest is history. But why was Moses so unwilling to take up the position of leader, to the extent that he would argue with G-d? And why was G-d so set on having Moses lead the Jewish people? 

Perhaps the answer can be found through the incident that led to his flight from Egypt, years earlier, when Moses, as mentioned above, killed an Egyptian slave master for beating a Hebrew slave. Immediately, he was met with opposition from some of the Hebrew slaves, “who made you chief and ruler over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian? [Exodus 2:14]” Moses felt discouraged and unsure of his ability to lead. However, it seems that G-d saw in Moses, a faithful shepherd, the ability to lead his people from slavery to freedom. Very often in Tanakh, the people that are most worthy to lead are the ones who deny that they are worthy at all. Moses may not appear to be the first choice for a leadership figure, suffering from a speech impediment and lacking charisma; however, Moses possessed certain qualities that made him the ideal leader to bring the Jewish people out of Egypt. We too possess qualities that can lead us to achieve incredible success and realize our full potential. We may often feel unmotivated or unsure of our own capabilities. Instead of feeling discouraged, I believe we can look to Moses who, despite all his doubts, stepped up to the challenge and became the greatest leader in Jewish history. 

Sam Virine
VP of Jewish Life at Hillel Waterloo & Laurier

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