Judaism hasn’t always been an important part of my life. Over the years my Jewish Identity has changed more times than the Minnesota Vikings have changed quarterbacks. There was the Hebrew School phase, the Bar Mitzvah phase (aka the glory days), the summer camp phase (not really something you phase out of), among others.
Admittedly, a lot of my friends are more religious than I am. I drive on Shabbat, I don’t go to synagogue every week, and I seriously just started noticing the eternal flame. I don’t even know if I’ve seen every episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Please refrain from judgement.
And while I currently live in Washington D.C., over 1,000 miles away from my hometown in Minnesota, I’m making a point to travel back this year for Rosh Hashanah.
Why? First, some context.
It was 2010 and I was a freshman in college. I was in an unfamiliar environment, living away from home — from my friends, from my family for the first time in my life. “What’s that?” My roommate said curiously pointing at a recently unpacked menorah on my dresser.
“That’s a Menorah, you light it on Hanukkah.”
“Like to smoke out of?” He asked.
Turns out, I was the first Jewish person my roommate had ever met. In fact, he hardly had any knowledge about the religion. This lack of insight was harmless by itself, but unawareness coupled with dangerous stereotypes and misinformation can be extremely dangerous.
It’s this unchecked ignorance which leads to an abundance of societal problems, and in a hyperpolarizing environment, it’s precisely what we’re experiencing today.
While anti-Semitism has never gone away, recent factors have resulted in a resurgence of explicit prejudice and discrimination. We have a president who condemns ESPN anchors more harshly than white supremacists. We’ve seen people take the streets with flags containing swastikas. Online harassment is at an all time high. An American citizen died a little over 100 miles away from me due to peacefully protesting the Alt-Right. What’s more, social media amplifies all of this, while giving bigots an escape to hide behind avatars and avoid accountability (not that social media hasn’t also been used for good).
The point is: with everything going on it seems especially important this year to gather in our own communities. I can’t help but feel a sense of urgency. It seems especially important to logout of Facebook and to take a break from Twitter in order to have meaningful, face-to-face conversations — even if those conversations are hard and uncomfortable.
To me, Rosh Hashanah signals the closing of one chapter and the beginning of the next. Each year the holiday reserves us time for self-reflection and reprioritization. It allows us to catch up with relatives, and unplug from technology, and share stories and laughs all while eating apples and honey (what a combo). I haven’t been to my synagogue since I moved away, but I know I will be welcomed back. This sense of community is something I’ve always appreciated.
Now as much as ever, it’s important for all of us, regardless of religion, to come together and stand up to hate, to speak out against injustice, and to start the new year full of compassion and hope — feeling reenergized and ready for whatever is ahead. Regardless of what your personal Rosh Hashanah plans are, I hope we will all take time to think about what progress looks like.
This story "This Year, I’ll Be Home for Rosh Hashanah" was written by Jon Savitt.