Ahh, Rosh Hashanah. A time for new beginnings. Literally, the “head of the year.” And not just any head – a Yiddishen kop.
The rituals of the Gregorian calendar’s New Year on Jan. 1 are institutionalized – overpriced “parties,” awkward kisses at midnight, unachievable expectations and the inevitable morning-after clean-ups and letdowns.
In actuality, the origins of the Gregorian New Year are Jewish – the day represents the circumcision of Jesus following his Christmastime(ish) birthday. It’s true. Wikipedia says so, look it up. The million people in Times Square watching for that apple to drop? One helluva bris day party.
But once the confetti and broken glass are swept up and the hangovers Alka-seltzered (not a Yiddish word, strangely), what is left for the Day After the Bris? As we assume it was for baby Jesus once the Manischewitz wore off, it’s a return to the “same old, same old” for most of us. We set resolutions smack in the middle of winter – a recipe for disaster. It’s like starting a new treadmill routine at top speed and incline. This isn’t even an analogy – the fitness industry banks on locking everyone and their mothers – especially their mothers – into annual contracts they’re bound to never use.
By contrast, the genius of Rosh Hashanah is often under-appreciated. We start the year with 10 full Days of Awe. It’s more contemplative experience than inebriated distraction. The Aseret Yemei Tshuvah are like a corporate retreat meant to reflect on the prior year and how to improve on this one, but unlike most corporate retreats, the catering involves raisin challahs and honey cake for nine days and absolutely zero food on the 10th.
Those first days of the year also provide a phenomenal offer – a 10-day, money-back guarantee on any resolution. Feel free to start big, and if you blow it, you can clean the slate on Yom Kippur, zero money down, no receipt needed.
Not only is this introspection valuable, it comes at just the right time of year – not the time of the year when going outside means a shovel job that will lead to either cardiac arrest, hip replacement surgery or, at the very least, the kind of swearing that puts you on page 1 of the Book of Death. Rather, a time of year when going outside means beautiful changing foliage and the cool sobriety that comes from a season associated with change.
After all, fall is when school and the academic calendar begin, and as young pishers, we already have ingrained in us the sense that this is when things start to happen, when vacation comes to a close and actions of consequence begin.
But let’s get down to the tachlis here in Canada: fall is when the hockey season starts. We can’t begin to explain to you how goyish it is that the current “New Year” lies smack in the middle of the hockey season, killing our players’ momentum and leaving us with a farkakten “All-Star Game” in the middle, as though that weak parade of half-tuchesed athleticism is supposed to cheer us up. (Hockey’s not your thing, you unpatriotic schlob? How about the NFL? Or the NBA? Oh, you say, but what about baseball? Sure, why don’t you side with the sport that tried to get Sandy Koufax to pitch on Yom Kippur, you good for nothing epikoiris!)
Any real Jew and/or hockey player knows that the season begins in September during training camp, and from that point, every second of every game counts. Period. These are all natural departure points for “seasons,” and by analogy, we are all the athletes of the soul for which each game of our season counts. Some games are ugly, and everything is a game of inches.
Now, despite all these points of superiority, we’re not necessarily proposing a change.org campaign to make Rosh Hashanah a Dick Clark production. Instead, like so many Jewish things, because they are kept small and traditional and not blown into the mainstream, they manage to keep their specialness, like unique treats to enjoy (especially when we get off work for them – Baruch haShem).
No matter how you define your Judaism, from Chabad to Chomsky, there is a quiet little logic to Rosh Hashanah as the true head of the year, and a time to use your Yiddishen kop to reflect on the past, project your future and hey, maybe even blow your own horn.
May you be inscribed in the book of life – in thick black Sharpie!
Chaimie and Leizer are Jamie Elman and Eli Batalion, co-creators of the world’s first online Yiddish sitcom 'YidLife Crisis'. YidLife Crisis launches the second season of its web series, including content with the great Canadian Jew himself, Howie Mandel, and our brand new Rosh Hashanah episode, which you can watch here.