Southern & Jewish
Southern & Jewish celebrates the stories, people, and experiences – past and present – of Jewish life in the American South. Hosted by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, posts come from educators, students, rabbis, parents, artists, and many other “visitors-to and daily-livers-of” the Southern Jewish experience. From road trips to recipes to reflections, we’ll explore a little bit of everything – well, at least all things Southern and/or Jewish. Shalom, y’all!
Several years ago, I was at a chain drugstore in Jackson, Mississippi, running some last-minute errands as I prepared to host a New Year’s Eve party. As I walked past the greeting card aisle, a Star of David dangling above a display caught my eye. HAPPY JEWISH NEW YEAR, the display sign read, and beneath the placard a selection of a half-dozen Rosh Hashanah cards peered up at me.
Only, y’know, about three months late for the actual Jewish new year. But hey, at least they tried.
And, after all, it’s easy to get confused. The Jewish calendar is filled with a slew of “new years.” There’s Rosh Hashanah, of course, when we hear the shofar and begin the actual new Jewish year (sorry, drugstore). And we also have Tu Bishvat, the New Year for Trees, when we get our eco-celebrations underway. In ancient times, there were another two times on the calendar also acknowledged as Jewish new years, though they’re not so front-and-center these days. And then of course there’s January 1, the secular New Year, when many of us watch the ball drop (or the catfish drop, as is the case in Jackson – seriously), feast on black-eyed peas and collard greens down South (which, as I learned last year, might be more Jewish than it seems), and make resolutions.
Although New Year’s resolutions are more often associated with secular New Year than with Jewish celebrations, there’s something familiar about vowing to be better as a new year begins. It also turns out that the forgotten-by-February resolutions we joke about now actually go pretty far back, not to the ancient Hebrews but some nearby neighbors: The origin of resolutions aligned with the changing over of the calendar is credited to the Babylonians, when ancient Babylonians made promises to the gods in hopes of landing in their good graces in the year ahead. Marking a new beginning with renewed commitments is an old, overlapping, and meaningful practice that has been adopted in all sorts of religious and secular ways over the centuries.
Personally, I love that we have so many reset buttons on the calendar — so many opportunities to reflect, resolve, recalibrate and move forward. These days, especially. Everything moves at such breakneck speed day to day, I’ll take all the new year stop-and-breathe opportunities I can get. When January 1 rolls around, I’ll once again put some time aside to do the same thing I do around the High Holidays. I take out my journal, a tome sadly neglected most days, and write about what’s on my mind. I write out what I’m most grateful for right now, what I’m most concerned about right now, and what steps I want to take to make things better — in my own life, and in the world. I make (or re-affirm) resolutions pretty much as often as I celebrate new beginnings, and it feels like a pretty Jewish thing to do on January 1st.
So, nu, maybe I should have picked up some of those cards at the drugstore. Yeah, they were technically a few months late and a little off-target… but wishing others well as we promise to do better is a sentiment that’s pretty much always right on time. Happy New Year, y’all!