You can learn a lot about the meaning of Tishri in pondering the significance of September. Anyone with schoolchildren knows that September is no ordinary month. Actually it has become less distinguished with the beginning of school now starting for many students in August. Even so, when you come to September, summer is over and you are getting a new year in varieties of ways.
While January 1 begins the New Year in the calendar, it feels more like change in the air in the cycle of the fall.
Tishri marks the beginning of the New Year, Jewishly; more accurately, it is the Jewish observance of the world new year. Even with Tishri’s emphasis on new beginnings, like the month of September, it is not the first month in the calendar year. September is the ninth month; Tishri is the seventh in a cycle of months beginning with Nisan, home to Passover.
What is notable is that this is one of the rare times that the entire cycle of Jewish beginning, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur all the way through the Sukkot holiday and its extraordinary climax with the festive Simchat Torah, all flows through and concludes in September. Jewishly, that is always the case, with Rosh Hashanah celebrating the first day of Tishri.
This linkage provides pause to ponder ingredients going into a new beginning to a new year, at least from the Jewish point of view. One distinction, especially in contrast to the official New Years Day coinciding with January 1, is that we look backward in order to go forward. We call our new year Day for Remembering, Yom Hazikaron. Along with looking back is appreciation for life as a continuing and connected journey. Whatever will be new in this coming year will have its connection to and origins in the year that was.
While New Year’s Day has its custom of resolutions, Rosh Hashanah leaves that work for the 10 day period that concludes with Yom Kippur. The work of Rosh Hashanah, focusing on remembering small and large moments from the year that was, results in Yom Kippur being a day of more serious reflection and introspection, raising probability that spiritual work done that day will be real and genuine, not rote and perfunctory. The work of Yom Kippur goes further and deeper than a list of resolutions, if that is even done, on New Year’s Day. Yom Kippur is serious work designed to change lives in significant ways: attitudes, priorities, interests, and overall perspective on life.
Moreover, this is a group effort; we are in this together. Unique rituals energize us and guide us in the process; the liturgy provides agendas of human issues to sort through and reflect upon.
We emerge through these Days of Awe with the joyous holiday of thanks giving: the harvest holiday, Sukkot. That holiday reminds us what the nature of the harvest is: people and relationships built on the wisdom of caring. Plus, the climax of the Sukkot holiday is with the thanks we give for the gift of the Torah.
In family settings, the energy of a new year is expressed in a child’s entering the next grade of a new school year, memories of youngsters moving forward in their journeys through life, learning more about the values that are taught in our society.. Even so, the focus on the new year centers on the children, whereas in Judaism, it involves all ages, the entire family and all generations. It is a new beginning for everyone.
One of the greatest challenges involving the day of transformation, Yom Kippur, is for people who are older to understand and accept that they are just as obligated, let alone invited, to go through new beginnings and changes as is the case for what we expect to see in children and younger people.
So, when all comparisons are made, what we may be left with is a realization that American holidays and culture, while built on age old customs and traditions, may not have the same kind of impact on people and their attitudes about life as is the case in those who engage the Jewish holidays. Too many American holidays come alive as days off rather than substantive opportunities to explore life meaning and make meaningful changes for the better.
When you consider what is taught in public schools and private schools, values and caring are not as much on the agenda, if at all, as the information given in each class for each student to learn and absorb. That reality serves to remind us that religious customs in general and Jewish customs in particular serve vital functions in assuring that our children, our families and our communities have opportunities and contexts to address life’s challenges and turn more of life into blessings.
September and Tishri, coinciding in welcoming the new year of 5771, provide a calendar this month with lots to do and much to accomplish in seeing that this new year and the year that awaits us will be a good and healthy and blessed one, not just a matter of good wishes and nice words, but a reflection of commitment to actions awaiting us to engage: to do good work in changing our lives for the better, even as we encourage one another to make this a wonderful year
Share the Holidays with your friends at CBS Napa!
We are delighted that members of B’nai Israel and Beth Sholom in Napa will have opportunities to welcome the holiday cycle and say goodbye to it, as well. We start at Beth Sholom, this coming Saturday, September 4 with dessert at 8:30 PM followed by Max Schleicher and Betsy Strauss at 9PM engaging everyone in the Sleechot mood-setting service, storytelling and reflection for the Days of Awe. What a wonderful way to begin with Max, who will again be sharing the leadership of the services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with Rabbi White. Put Saturday, September 4 at 8:30 PM on your weekly calendar now and enjoy the two communities coming together.
Then, CBS Napa joins us at B’nai Israel on Thursday, September 30, 6:30PM for Mini-Shmini Atzeret and Yizkor, followed by the boundlessly joyous Simchat Torah celebration and dancing and the new beginning with the Torah! What a way to launch the new year with the strength of two wonderful communities sharing in what hopefully will be a first cycle of occasions to celebrate with one another in 5771.