Rosh Hashanah: Individuals, Renewing as One

Today my Hebrew classes ended an hour early so that all of the students and residents at the absorption center (heavily subsidized public housing for new immigrants) where classes are held could participate in a Rosh Hashanah ceremony.

At first I wanted to head for the bus. I could sure use another hour to study about the holiday or to rest up. But, plagued by feelings of guilt and hopes for some of the honey cake that I spotted, I stayed.

The event was incredibly cheesy, but incredibly moving. Before me were hundreds of young people from literally across the entire globe who had moved to Israel this summer and who were, like me, struggling to learn Hebrew and to figure their new home out.

Here I was, frustrated by feeling that I hadn’t learned enough to prepare myself for the holiday. Meanwhile, the rest of the students and staff, the vast majority of whom are not observant of the laws and customs I wanted to familiarize myself with, were celebrating!

In the middle of the ceremony, a shofar was blown.

And it will be on that day that a great shofar will be blown and they will come: those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those outcast in the land of Egypt; and they will prostrate themselves before Hashem (God) in the holy mountain, Jerusalem. (Isaiah 27:13)

One of the many significances to the shofar blast is a cry to express a yearning that cannot manifest itself in words. It is a cry to God, a longing for betterment when we do not know how, and a call to wake up when society, culture, habit, and surroundings have lulled us into a state where we are distant from our true selves.

I cannot properly put into words an explanation as to why all of us decided to come to Israel. I suppose we heard some inner call from the shofar, an inner awakening to break free, and for the believers among us, the opportunity dwell in the holy land of our forefathers.

In the Mishnah on Rosh Hashanah and in the Unetanah Tokef, a prayer that is a hallmark of the Mussaf service, we learn that “Like a shepherd inspecting his flock, making sheep pass under his staff, so shall You cause to pass, count, calculate, and consider the soul of all the living; and You shall apportion the fixed needs of all Your creatures and inscribe their verdict.”

We pass before God for judgment as individuals, but in the Viduii, or confessional, we all confess communally. The pullings of my desires to be an individual and responsibilities of being part of a collective were felt very keenly today, as I tried to prepare for Rosh Hashanah.

I feel that Israel is very much a place where an individual can have a tremendous impact on the community. I see a great need for volunteers and initiatives that can be started. Similarly, the loss of each individual is keenly felt (Gilad Schalit, for instance, is recalled at nearly every public event). Our judgment and our destiny is not reliant on someone else, some other leader. Every person has the ability to elicit real change, both within themselves and in their surroundings.

I want to wish you a year of health and happiness, the ability to tune into your inner callings and to be a contributing member of a community that helps you reach these goals.
Shana tova u’metukah, and a ketivah v’ chatimah tova.


1 Response to “Rosh Hashanah: Individuals, Renewing as One”

  1. 1 Jewish Terrorists « Aliyah L'Torah Trackback on November 5, 2009 at 12:47 am

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Ilene Rosenblum is a writer and marketing professional living in Jerusalem.

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