Everybody wants 2020 to end, but no one does anything about it. No one, that is, but us Jews.
You see, all the horrible things that have come to be in 2020 have been also happening in the Jewish year 5780, which started last fall. Now, at Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, we are saying goodbye to this disappointing 5780 and welcoming in 5781 with the traditional symbols of the season: apples and honey for sweetness, a round raisin challah that is extra sweet and whose shape signifies the eternal cycle of the seasons, pomegranates whose numerous juicy seeds represent the myriad of opportunities to do good things in the coming year, and, of course, the shofar, the ram’s horn, the sound of which stirs us from our doldrums and calls us to prepare for the hard work of repentance that is to come.
With joy, we say goodbye to 5780. At the same time, we know that we cannot so easily say goodbye to COVID-19. It will be with us in 5781; perhaps even longer. But this is still a time to celebrate. At every holiday, every happy event, we say the shehecheyanu, a prayer that explicitly thanks God for enabling us to reach this season. With 200,000 Americans having died from this horrible pandemic, we who are alive should be grateful to have reached this season.
With regret, we look back at the things we should have done, or could have done better in 5780. Did we honor the best in us, or did we indulge the worst in us? Did we help when help was needed? Did we lend our voice when our words could have helped? Did we treat Black Lives Matter like a slogan, a password that lets people know your heart is basically in the right place, or did we treat it like a mission, a critical goal for humankind that can only be accomplished by principled action? Did we take that action? I know that for me, I confess I could have been more visible, more vocal, more involved in BLM. That is a failure of mine, and a failure for those in my community who do not wear the shield of whiteness.
Have I been as kind as I could have been, as mindful of other people’s feelings? Was I grateful for the kindnesses I received? Did I return the love that was shown to me? I think for the most part I can answer yes, though I certainly could have done better. May I forgive those who did me wrong, and may those I have wronged find it in their heart to forgive me.
With hope, we look ahead to 5781. Though the virus will remain, the deaths continue to mount, we are learning more, we are getting closer to a vaccine, we know how to keep ourselves safe. It is not our job to find the cure or heal the sick. It is our job to be patient, to be compassionate, and to remain present in life. This, too, shall pass and we must be ready when it does. We must remember that our actions affect others; not just their feelings, but their physical health. Instead of spreading germs we must spread positivity, empathy, and a sense of duty to one another.
This pandemic is an event of science, and only science can fix it. We must protect and support our medical professionals, our first responders, our teachers. We must vote for science, for decency, for respect, for unity, for peace. 5780 will not see the results of the 2020 election. For a 5781/2021 we can live with, we must vote Blue. That is one easy way each of us can make the coming year—and, God willing, many coming years—happy, healthy, and prosperous. I vow to do my part, and to improve myself in every way I can. May it be enough. Shana Tova. Happy Jew Year.