Today is November 21, 2017 /

High Holiday Study Service: Personal Thoughts and Reflection

By Bonnie Silverman, Study Service Subcommittee

The High Holiday Study Service represents an alternative approach to prayer committed to learning and spirituality, with individual and group participation.  As is our tradition, we typically have a High Holiday theme. This year we focused on the topic of “New Beginnings.”  Our fellow congregants were asked to write down brief personal thoughts on new beginnings, reflecting over the previous and upcoming year.  Throughout the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur service, these words were read anonymously by another congregant.  With this format, we were able to share everyone’s thoughts without the burden of over-personalizing or exposing anyone’s deepest personal experience or feelings.  Participants shared past experiences and prayers for the future.  Some were clearly painful, both for the writer and the listener. Some were full of gratitude and hope.  It is our hope that you take the time to both read and reflect on them during this post High Holiday season.

Once again, L’Shana Tovah to all of you and may it be a year full of personal growth, health and happiness.

Anonymous Personal Reflections
1.
“New beginnings start with stopping the endless stream of self-recriminations.  How can I expect others to allow me to have a fresh start, if I myself won’t let go of the past?  I have a choice with every day, every hour, every minute, as to what I’m going to put my energy into.  If I spend it reliving and regretting past events, past decisions and past actions, there is no time or energy for the new.  So new beginnings entail learning the lessons from the past, and taking those lessons – not the past – into a new day.

2.
“When I think of a “new beginning” at this point in my life – it is more about trying harder in my relationships with others, especially family and friends.  It is investing time and energy together with patience, love and understanding.  It is not that we do not know what to do – it is the opportunity to start again and do it better, recognizing we will not always succeed.  It is about the effort and the intent – that is the newness I seek.  With knowing that you did all you could – the reward will be the effort.  Zchar mitzvah – mitzvah”.

3.
“The prospect of “a new beginning” in the near future is a cause for me to take stock not only of those things for which I need improvement, but also for those things for which I am thankful. 24 hour news, the internet and enhanced communication in fifteen second sound bites creates a cacophony that makes it difficult at best to hear myself. At Rosh Hashanah, I try to hear that still. small voice that sits within me with words of thankfulness for all that I have been given. As to “improvements”, I have miles to go, but for now I am deeply appreciative”.

4.
“More than 30 years ago, I nervously boarded a flight to Los Angeles, to start a research fellowship. My anxiety must have been palpable, as the little old lady sitting next to me turned and inquired:
‘What’s the matter young man? You seem so stressed out?’

I explained that I was moving to a new city that I had never been to, where I knew no-one, to start something completely new and I just didn’t know if I would be happy.
She responded with an unforgettable and wise smile, ‘Why don’t you just choose to be happy?’
We spent the next five hours discussing that concept. Can you simply choose happiness? I’ve been working on it ever since.”

5.
“New Beginnings come in many forms that are not always pleasant ones. 5777 was the year my mother passed away.  It became the ‘Beginning of Life without Her.’ The ‘Beginning’ of experiences such as Shiva, Kaddish and  Yizkor.  Experiencing holidays without her love and good wishes. It is a ‘New Beginning’ that brought a NEW perspective to life and to seriousness of the High Holy Days.”

6.
“New beginnings start with stopping the endless stream of self-recriminations.  How can I expect others to allow me to have a fresh start, if I myself won’t let go of the past?  I have a choice with every day, every hour, every minute, as to what I’m going to put my energy into.  If I spend it reliving and regretting past events, past decisions and past actions, there is no time or energy for the new.  So new beginnings entail learning the lessons from the past, and taking those lessons – not the past – into a new day.

7.
“It feels good to be lost in the right direction Not all positive change feels positive in the beginning. The best view comes after the hardest climb.”

8.
“The prospect of ‘a new beginning’ in the near future is a cause for me to take stock not only of those things for which I need improvement, but also for those things for which I am thankful. 24 hour news, the internet and enhanced communication in fifteen second sound bites creates a cacophony that makes it difficult at best to hear myself. At Rosh Hashanah, I try to hear that still. small voice that sits within me with words of thankfulness for all that I have been given. As to ‘improvements,’ I have miles to go, but for now I am deeply appreciative.”

9.
“As I approach these High Holidays, I think about changes that approach as I get older and reach a new stage in my life: married children, extended family, hopefully grandchildren,   I take stock of where I am and things I still hope to accomplish.   I am grateful for what God has given me but feel I have more to do.  Do I have the courage to move in new directions?  Honestly I really don’t know.

10.
“This year, I look forward to the beginning of a new and rewarding phase of my life. My husband and I will enjoy our growing family, and savor the flourishing of seeds we planted long ago. More time devoted to ourselves and each other will help us remember how fortunate we are to have created such a special life together.”

11.
“I love new beginnings, I cherish them as opportunities to grow, make personal changes and discover something new about myself.  Whether it is a new job, a geographical move, or a new relationship, I welcome the catalytic energy it ignites in me. This past summer, I had the opportunity to begin a new relationship with Poland where I had the opportunity to discover my Jewish ancestral roots, and connect more deeply to our Jewish people-hood….I will see where this takes me, but it has already brought me to a place within that has been quiet and dormant until now.”

12.
“I see life as a cycle so no beginning or end. However within that loop are many transitions and opportunities to take on challenges , overcome obstacles, delve deeper, learn and grow. Living each day as a new day, weighing heavily on forgiveness, tolerance and giving everyone ( including myself) the benefit of the doubt helps me to stay open and optimistic about the future.”

13.
“As memories of the summer begin to fade away with the cooling air, and attempts to prolong the illusion of frivolity fail, it is time to come home and address all those matters that matter, that we had let slip away.  Responsibilities left dangling need to be picked up again, and it is time to look inside and take stock of the last twelve months.  Are we satisfied with what we’ve done?  Can we do better?  Are we ashamed?  Will we find the strength to do better?”

14.
“Although I am almost 60 now I feel that my life is beginning.  I feel more alive now than ever before.  Before now I wanted to die.  Now I want to live.   I’m grateful.”

15.
“Our family lost close family members to death over the past year. At times like this it really makes you think of treasuring every moment we have on earth, to deepen the relationships to our existing family and friends.  I need to be more thankful and appreciative for all the people I do have.”

16.
“You’ve probably heard someone say, no tombstones say ‘beloved employee’ or ‘beloved employer.’  A few years ago, during the High Holidays, I decided to take this message to heart.  Finding a better balance between family and work became a priority that continues for me to this day.  Some might say ‘I gave up a lot on the career side’ but I would say ‘I am very happy with my choices and living a more fulfilled life’.”

17.
“The High holidays allow me to let my guard down.  I’m more vulnerable than any other time of the year.  Asking Hashem, friends and family for forgiveness for all the things I’ve done poorly comes easier.  Making a commitment to self-improvement comes easier.  It’s making all that stick once the holidays are over that’s my challenge .”

18.
“For me a new beginning is a gift I give to myself at various times, but especially around the High Holidays.  I give myself the chance to shed past mistakes I have made or things I did that I regret or wish I’d done differently and to start afresh.  And I try not to expect myself to be perfect going forward but to give myself credit for trying to do better in the future.”

19.
“This past year has resulted in my being the sole survivor of my family of origin. I am more than ready for a new year, and beginning to reflect on and share the beauty and enrichment my parents and brother brought to my life and the hope that I hold for the future.”

20.
“It may seem odd to think about death as marking a new beginning.  This is a season of remembrance, however.  We will say Yizkor on Yom Kippur.  We cannot know what death implies for ourselves.  But we can be sure that the deaths of our parents marks a new beginning for those of us who are adults with children.  We no longer have our parents to serve as our appreciative audience and cheering section.  Instead, we must carry on and play that role for our own children—and find and retain ways to find meaning and purpose for ourselves absent those which providing nacchas for our parents once did.  A new beginning—and a challenging one.”

21.
“A few years ago, I was flying to Israel when I struck up a conversation with the Israeli woman next to me.   She was probably close to 80,  a widow,  and shared her very interesting life story with me.   She was born in pre-war Poland,  then exiled to Siberia during the war and eventually made aliyah.   She was an original pioneer who had many struggles in early Israel.   She had two sons in Israel and a third son in New York whom she had just visited for Pesach and was now returning home.   She spontaneously shared with me that her New York son was married to a woman who was Polish,  and not Jewish.    I asked her how she accepted that –given her history.  She looked at me,  as if I were out of my mind,  and told me that if her son was happy, she was happy.      I think about this woman often.   This was a new beginning for me in trying not to be so judgmental and more accepting of the choices those closest to me make.”

22.
“I recently attended a wedding in Spain where I knew very few people. I was struck by the enormous warmth with which each person I was introduced to greeted me. As customary, I was kissed on both cheeks and felt totally embraced by complete strangers – one after another instantly. I think we too often meet people and are at first guarded and judgmental. They need to earn our warmth and maybe even our kindness. I loved the Spanish approach and want to follow that example beginning now.”

23.
“The holidays are a time to pause and take notice of the changes in nature occurring all around. It is darker earlier, a morning chill in the air and an opportunity for all we love to gather and spend quality time together. As our families change, I am getting older which gives me a new perspective.word to describe how I feel: Grateful.”

24.
“When I think of a ‘new beginning’ at this point in my life – it is more about trying harder in my relationships with others, especially family and friends.  It is investing time and energy together with patience, love and understanding.  It is not that we do not know what to do – it is the opportunity to start again and do it better, recognizing we will not always succeed.  It is about the effort and the intent – that is the newness I seek.  With knowing that you did all you could – the reward will be the effort.  Zchar mitzvah – mitzvah.”

25.
“As I approach these High Holidays, I think about changes that approach as I get older and reach a new stage in my life: married children, extended family, hopefully grandchildren,   I take stock of where I am and things I still hope to accomplish.   I am grateful for what God has given me but feel I have more to do.  Do I have the courage to move in new directions?  Honestly I really don’t know.”

26.
I’ve been searching all week for something meaningful. I wanted to share A Rabbi from Jerusalem words of wisdom:
“On Yom Kippur we need to ask self-defining questions. Who am I? Where am I going? Where could I go? What am I made of? What potential do I have? What unused talents are there within me? What has been misused? What character faults have to be corrected? What haven’t I accomplished that which I am capable of?

Yom Kippur, he said, should not be a somber time just because it’s the day we’re most fully in touch with our struggle to perfect ourselves. Yes – struggle is difficult, but we should realize that the things we work hardest to accomplish are often those most rewarding.

I’m going to look at this day for the first time as one to feel fully alive and hopeful.

In my own life,  I define  “new beginning” through the benefit of  hindsight.   New beginnings arise from transitions and I have never been good with change.  Whether it be a move abroad, a return from a move abroad or entering a different stage of life, in the moment, I experience the change as a loss and not as an opportunity.     With the benefit of hindsight, I see that with each transition,  I adapt, adjust and even thrive.  What I lacked at the point of transition was trust.   When trust replaces fear, there is more room to see change as an opportunity for a new beginning.

I am searching for the way to re-charge and refresh longstanding relationships. There is no blank slate when you are in your 60s, but I feel the need to move ahead in new directions with those I love most dearly or the connection will not serve us very well.

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