The things I’ll do, from challah to Hong Kong

'This seems a good time to stop and take stock of the past few months — and work out what changes are in order for 5781'

September 17, 2020 11:07

Jews don’t normally make formal Rosh Hashanah resolutions. It’s not part of our tradition.

But this year feels different from all other years.

The last six months have been a time of introspection. When life has changed so dramatically and so rapidly, it’s inevitable you start rethinking your priorities and what you want out of life.

Yet, in the eye of the storm, it’s been hard to crystallise most of these thoughts, let alone act on them. Most of the changes we’ve been through recently were imposed on us. And we’ve faced such a barrage of emergencies and stresses that it’s been difficult to make significant, purposeful changes.

Rosh Hashanah has the themes of contemplation and self-improvement baked into it. And so, this seems a good time to stop and take stock of the past few months — and work out what changes are in order for 5781.

Here are my Rosh Hashanah resolutions…

1. Spend more time listening to, and trying to understand, people I disagree with. Some of the most valuable time I’ve spent online over the past few months has been in a Facebook group for Jewish religious women interested in “social change”.

Someone added me to this group, perhaps assuming that I was a natural fit. I really wasn’t. The group is very far to my left politically, and at times some of the discussions about race, gender politics and social justice were completely out of my comfort zone.

But being exposed to the life experiences, concerns and political frameworks of women in many ways very different to myself, including transgender Jews, Jews of colour and Jews in tiny, out-of-the-way communities (mostly in the States) has been an enormous eye-opener, and challenged my thinking in many ways.

We live in an age that is polarised politically — and social media creates echo chambers. This has been exacerbated by lockdown. So this year, I resolve to make more of an effort to cross those political and social barriers.

2. Create new family traditions. In the past, a lot of my energy on Shabbat and Jewish festivals went into entertaining friends.

This has sadly become impossible, but it has created time and space to think more carefully about how to create more meaningful Shabbat and Yomtov experiences at home.

For example, we had seder by ourselves for the first time ever, and were able to introduce some games and dramatic activities to engage our children. And this year, we’re planning to introduce Rosh Hashanah simanim (symbolic foods) for the first time. It’s easy to dwell on what we’re missing, but this is also an opportunity to go the extra mile to make the Jewish calendar more meaningful and memorable for our families — and I resolve to do more of this next year.

3. Do more to help the people of Hong Kong and the Uighurs. The world stood aside as Jews were slaughtered during the Holocaust, and I feel that we cannot stand aside as the Uighurs are enslaved and destroyed in China. Similarly, watching the people of Hong Kong having their freedom taken away is one of the greatest challenges of our lifetimes. But yet again, the world seems to be letting this happen. I resolve to do my little bit to make sure these causes do not get passed over.

4. Go to back to shul. I’ve been hesitant about going back to shul during lockdown and its aftermath. The lack of kiddush hasn’t helped! I’m also just out of the habit. But the other day my eight-year-old asked why I don’t go to shul any more, and I realised how much I missed it. The day of rest will be slightly less restful… But I’m going back to shul.

5. Bake more blueberry-and-almond challahs. Sometimes it’s the small things in life that count. During lockdown, we had plenty of time to bake challahs as a family, for the first time since I was on maternity leave eight years ago. Not only was this a great bonding experience, but our Friday nights have never tasted so good. I resolve to continue with our challah baking — or (let’s be realistic here) convince the kids to do it instead.

September 17, 2020 11:07

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