Rosh Hashana: Out With The Old… In With The New

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One can get very schizophrenic when thinking about Rosh Hashana. On one hand it is a beautiful Yom Tov celebration with wonderful traditions and great food. It is loving holiday with everyone wishing each other a happy and healthy New Year. I like to pull out all my special china and silver to “doll” up the table in celebration of the chag; but paradoxically it is also a very serious holiday. It is the Day of Judgment, when we recite the “Usaneh Tokef. I do not know about you, but that tefilah (prayer) always gives me the chills. It details about who should live and who should die and delineates that various ways that people lose their lives during the past year. I think about all those who have perished in extraordinary circumstances the prayer mentions specific misfortunes that always resonate with me. . Every year I am amazed of how many of these episodes have happened to people I know personally or from the news. It lists tragic instances that can befall us such as who shall perish by fire, water.  Perishing by fire is unfortunately easy to comprehend. Think about what is happening in California. But by water always gets me until this past year. Hurricane Harvey’s flooding decimated Houston and other areas of Texas. Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused havoc in Florida and Puerto Rico. The latest death toll from Maria was reported as 2,975. The torrential rain of Hurricane Lane that hit Hawaii was of cyclonic proportions. Water can definitely be deadly. The excessive violence that has proliferated our country and the world for that matter is also very troubling. Innocent people are being killed at concerts and video game conventions for no good reason other than it were destined to happen to them.

We are not naïve enough to think that things won’t happen during the coming year. We hope that they will be good ones. We pray that all will be well and that we and our loved ones be spared any heartache or despair. We receive solace knowing that repentance, prayer and charity reverse the evil decree.  With all that said, Rosh Hashana is about life. We, Jews, have faith in the Al –mighty as the G-d of life.  The Jewish New Year is a time of  quiet happiness not loud, boisterous reveling as on the secular New Year’s Eve  It is  a time for serious  contemplation ,of looking back but more importantly of looking forward.  I have always been gratified to know that no matter how much I have messed up during this past year, Rosh Hashana are  the days when  I get another chance-- an opportunity to  do better. The Jew looks forward with faith to a better future, a future of peace and tranquility, of positive experiences and growth. It is a time of optimism –a chance to change things for the better.

Every Rosh Hashana is a time of planning anew, of hope for a better tomorrow. We should not just go through the motions that become insignificant and dull. There should be excitement in the air; there is a new day a dawning. We should not lose sight of the fact that life is worth living when there is purpose.   G-d judges all of us on Rosh Hashana determining our worthiness of existence  and the circumstances for the new year We have the opportunity to remove ourselves from our past limitations, and reach for the stars, seeing ourselves as new beings involved in a new and ambitious  focus for reaching our ultimate fate as individuals and as a nation. Our plea on the High Holy Days is to be granted the privilege of life so that we may use that life for the glorification of G-d’s name.

Each year is designated with a certain destiny which will bring us much closer to the ultimate goal-to make the world a better place... Each person, we believe, has it within his power to decide his own future. He doesn’t need the clergy or family members to do it for him. The relationship is between him/her and G-d. What is very comforting is that no one is so bad that he cannot change for the better or so saintly that he cannot become better.

Faithfulness for the Jew means responding to G-d by the performance of mitzvoth. We must run after opportunities to do good and not just wait around for them to come to us. We must approach the problems of life and society with a commitment to the ideals of righteousness, social justice, compassion, pity for the disadvantaged and those who were wronged.

 I once beseeched a famous rabbi to give me a “brachah”. “What kind of bracha do you wish?” he asked. I told him that I need a blessing to receive merit for the mitzot that I do each day. He was kind enough to accede to my request and that is my blessing to all of you. May you have the” zichus” to receive reward for the good deeds that you do and will do in the coming year.

I want  to take this opportunity to wish all the readers of the Queens Jewish Link, on behalf of my family and myself, a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.  May all of Klal Yisroel be inscribed in the Book of Life-we should be blessed to have peace and tranquility in the coming year.

P.S. I cannot  let this opportunity go by without our expressing our Hakors Ha-tov to the late Senator John McCain who passed away last week of the effects of brain cancer. Senator McCain was an “ohav Yisroel”(a true friend of Israel). He visited Israel frequently and as a military man understood Israel’s need to defend herself and admired Israel’s fortitude in doing so. McCain stood on principles and wasn’t afraid to buck the establishment even in his own party to adhere to those goals. We Jews do not and should not forget those who were good to us and stood by us.  He will be missed in our community where every friend counts May he rest in peace.

By Cynthia Zalisky

Cynthia Zalisky is the Executive Director of the Queens Jewish Community Council. She can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.