The two New Years are miles apart

While January’s celebration is all about the party, the Jewish High Holy Days aren’t called the Days of Awe for nothing

By Tracy-Ann Oberman, September 16, 2010

Happy New Year, Dear Reader.

I hope it was a good one with mountains of honey cake and not too many family broiguses.

Yes, it's that time of "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness" again.

Leaves change their hue, drop and spread a magical golden carpet on the ground; plums fall from the tree in my small city garden to end up being half baked in a pie; the evening air has the unmistakable aroma of what I think of as Yom Kippur; my summer clothes, like childish thoughts, are packed away, and the heavy-duty coat returns from its banishment in the loft to offer protection against the coming winter.

It's time to take stock, reap the harvest, wave the scythe…

The most spiritual part is the mix of spirits - between ‘Just one Buck’s Fizz’, and finishing off the bottle of Jack Daniels

(Gosh, I might have come across a bit Thomas Hardy there, but I think you get my drift).

We in the diaspora are blessed with the fact that we have not one but two New Years.

Like the Queen and her two birthdays, we have double opportunities to imbibe too much wine, eat too much cake and write a list of resolutions that we won't keep.

Yet both New Years could not be more different. New Year's Eve - or Old Year's Night - is celebrated in Ye Time Olde traditional way laid out by the good burgers of yore.

Having spent most of December saying, "Oh, I'm not really going to bother this year - it's always a letdown," one then has the last-minute 3pm scramble realising that December the 31st has a significance in that there might be the most exciting party in THE WORLD going on just around the corner and like a LOSER you won't be in attendance.

Having found said party, which is usually miles away and hosted by a member of the school PTA or the old friend who you see every week
and has all the glamour of a much loved but well-worn pair of slippers, the evening then slips by without a single firework or glitter ball in sight.

The most spiritual part of this New Year's Eve is the mix of spirits - somewhere between, "Oh, just one glass of Buck's Fizz then", and finishing off a bottle of Jack Daniels with the party host at around 3am, moaning about the cost of babysitters and irritable bowel trouble.

The Jewish New Year, on the other hand, could not be more spiritual. It doesn't matter how observant or non-observant you are, this most holy day of the year strikes a chord in nearly all Jews.

Synagogues surge with attendees, two thirds fast and between Kol Nidre and Ne'ilah, a sense of awe, repentance and ancient biblical resonance chimes as loud as any note of Big Ben.

It's the real deal is Yom Kippur - a New Year's Eve that does what it says on the packet.

It's time to spend 25 hours taking a personal inventory that goes alongside confessions of guilt and prayers for repentance.

As the pounding migraine kicks in, one can sense the Big Man (or Woman) in the Sky, scribbling in the Book of Life and Death the names of who shall live and who shall die.

It's not called the Days of Awe for nothing.

And, as the final shofar is blown at the end of the fast, one has a sense of cleanliness, hope and achievement. Only at the first sip of tea and bite of buttered challah does the New Year feel like it's really begun.

I wish you all well over the fast.

Last updated: 11:22am, September 16 2010