The Days We Stand in Awe

(This Jewish New Year marks 5771.
Makes 2010 sound like nothing, right?)

Like so many other Jewish academics, I have long sung the praises of the convergence of the Jewish New Year and the new academic year.  What better time to ask ourselves: What will this year bring?  What new doors will open up before me?  What opportunities will present themselves?  And, most importantly in relation to the processes of t’shuvah (repentance and return) what challenges will I encounter?

Having the year start at the end of the summer, as the gardens and grasses go dormant, rather than in the dead of winter when everything is already in hibernation also makes better sense to me.  When we look at the natural world around us, we can see signs of life in repose.  As I watch the Golden Finches dine on the seeds of deadheaded flowers in my garden, I ask myself if I took the time to appreciate those flowers while they were in bloom.  Did I make the most out of my summertime walks with Elsa (my four-legged companion) and was a patient enough with her when she wanted to stop and take in all the smells of the other dogs in our neighborhood?  Did I make the most of my time with my step-children while they were off from school?

Between now and Yom Kippur, we will literally stand for many of our prayers.  The act of standing helps awaken our consciousness, it keeps us alert and actively engaged in the acts of reflection and repentance.  We stand in awe of where we have been and where we might be going.  We do not sit and watch the world pass us by.

Rosh haShanah is about spiritual rebirth.  In 5771 I will be reborn as a biological mother.  I will face many challenges in that role.  I appreciate having this opportunity to reflect on, atone for, and move beyond the marks I may have missed in the past year so I can enter this new phase of my life as open and free as possible.

Here are a few questions I will use to help me reflect.  I hope you might find them useful as well.

Think about a major milestone that happened with your family in this last year. How has this affected you?

Describe a broader event in the world that has impacted you this year? How? Why?

Consider something that you wish you had done differently this past year?  How would you have done it differently and how can you learn from it to improve how things turn out in the future?

Is there a part of yourself that you want to work on in this new year?

(Questions derived from

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