Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, starts now. This has never been a particularly important holiday in my mind, at least not compared to the ones that commemorate liberation from slavery, wandering in the desert or failed genocides. My parents always host a family get-together, and when I lived on the same continent as them I would go, but these days my observance has been limited to eating some kind of symbolic food—apples with honey, for the promise of a sweet year ahead, being traditional—just because I like to mark the passing of the seasons.
But when I think about why some of the other holidays speak to me more, I realise that it’s only partly because they have inspiring stories behind them. Most of the appeal is that they serve as regular reminders to be humble in the face of the world. The “how my ancestors suffered” stories are only one route to that, and in a similar vein I appreciate Jeff Goldwasser’s take on Rosh Hashanah:
You don’t have to believe in a God who is a big daddy in the sky listening to our prayers and passing judgment on our actions. I do not. I do, however, have faith that I am here for a reason and that part of that reason is to discover truths of all sort, to live a life of justice and compassion, and to appreciate all I can in life that is true and beautiful…. I certainly have moments of doubt, but I believe myself to be at my best when I acknowledge these things to be true.
This is what Rosh Hashanah is for. It is our once-a-year moment to pay attention to the fact that there is a world that we did not create, that there is a task for us in life that is not complete, and to listen to the wake up call to start paying attention to the truest truths of our lives.