By Shir Attias, NFTY-SW Religious and Cultural Vice-President
I remember the high holidays as a kid very well: huge dinner tables laden with soups, meats, and deserts; long winded services telling us to ask for forgiveness and look forward to a new year. I remember the long sermons prompting introspection, and I remember twiddling my thumbs unable, as a child, to fathom the concepts of new beginnings. As a kid, all Rosh Hashanah meant was eating delicious honey cakes, and all Yom Kippur meant was eating delicious honey cakes while taunting my parents.
But as my friends and I outgrew the shofar coloring books, the high holidays began to mean something different. As high schoolers and NFTY-ites, the high holidays encompass much more than food. This year– with the high holidays falling soon after our first event as region–it was especially clear how much NFTY has shaped our reflections and values. Wishing each other, “L’shanah Tova Tikvateivu” finally had understandable meaning behind it.
Just a few weeks earlier, NFTY-Southwest gathered together for our Leadership Training Institute (LTI) in Tucson, AZ, a weekend dedicated to exploring and encouraging leadership in our region as we begin our new year. Through the weekend, we explored our roles as leaders—in our region and in our communities—to take action. We made plans to take action regarding gun violence prevention and to take action on race relations in our communities. We discussed how to reach out to others and how to bring others in to create inclusive and welcoming communities, in the true spirit of audacious hospitality. We studied how our faith encourages a fight for the pursuit of justice. And we did so together as one cohesive, tight-knit community. In NFTY, we value Kehillah Kedosha—holy community– in everything we do and pursue. We treasure our Kehillah Kedosha and work to give others the same sense of community that we hold so dearly. This feeling of community is experienced not only at events, but throughout the year and especially during the high holidays when, even though Southwest isn’t together as a region, it feels as if we are closer than ever.
Carley Cook, a NFTY-ite from BSTY in Santa Fe, NM, described the high holy days as “a reminder for me to be grateful for all the communities and relationships I am so lucky to have in my life, like my family, friends, temple, youth group, and NFTY community as a whole.”
Similarly, Sam Fagel, a member of NTTY in Las Vegas, NV explained the High Holidays as “a time for people who never see each other to come together in prayer. In a way, high holy days are a lot like NFTY. People from all over from far and wide gather together for Judaism. To me it’s a sort of family reunion with the people you don’t see at Shabbat every Friday, or the kids who don’t go to Sunday school all the time.” Sam continued to explain, “I love the high holy days because it is really a day to think. A day to think about all you’ve done that year, all you haven’t done, everything you wish you did do, and everything you will do in the future. The holidays really put life into perspective, and the resolutions you make really do mean something because they come from a place of deep thought and prayer…”
Perhaps even more magical than how strongly our community resonates throughout the high holidays, the high holidays highlight how strongly NFTY-ites value Jewish principles such as tikkun olam, the power of the individual, and a connection to the state of Israel.
TCTY member Marc Goodman describes the high holidays as “a time each year where we allow ourselves to look back and contemplate how we have lived.”
For Marc, this manifested itself in giving back to our community. “This year I spent my high holidays in service, by helping with the annual food drive at Temple Chai. This allowed me to think about times this year when I have been ungrateful for what I have and focus on how I can change that in the coming year. I believe that everyone should use this time to change for the better, sort of a New Year’s Resolution.”
The hope that Marc describes is embodied in change. TSTY-ite Eva Turner found this hope in realizing that “the most important person [she] needed to apologize to during the High Holidays was [her]self.” Eva continues, “I apologized for being my biggest critic and my most complex obstacle, something NFTY helped me reflect upon.”
“Each year the high holidays mean optimism, joy, and wonder of what is yet to come” Abby Adelman, a KATY-ite from Scottsdale reflects . “This year they have a special meaning for me. Given my medical struggles throughout the last year, I have a newfound appreciation for life and all the special people in my life (especially NFTY-ites). I took the time to reflect on my month long trip to the land of Israel and how lucky I am to be Jewish and have my break fast table full of the most amazing family members and friends. The coming of the New Year gives me hope for the best year yet and pride for what is yet to come in figuring out where my future lies. But for now I know I’m right where I’m supposed to be.”
Our values as a region manifested themselves in our resolutions for the New Year. As a strong, coherent community, we wished to be inscribed for a good year of health, happiness, and growth. When I think of Southwest and the high holidays that have just passed, I certainly am not the little girl twiddling her thumbs in services. Rather I, like so many others in the region, am filled with gratitude and purpose. Let us hold on to the gratitude we feel so strongly during the high holidays for our Kehillah Kedosha, and consciously choose to let others feel that as well. Let us decide to never take it for granted and pursue justice as a community. And let us act intentionally to give others the good year that we so passionately pray for.