Rosh Hashanah: How To Make It New

Isidor Kaufmann “The New Year”

Spiritual Sunday – Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah begins on Tuesday, giving me an excuse to share this stimulating poem by Rachel Barenblat, keeper of the wonderfully named Velveteen Rabbi blog. The Jewish New Year, as you probably know, celebrates the day of creation, and people take the opportunity to examine their lives over the past year and repent.

In her poem, Barenblat asks what we are to make of the fact that lists this year will look pretty much the same as last year. The view of the Creation “that gleams before us” may not have changed, she writes. But we have.


By Rachel Barenblat

How to make it new:
each year the same missing
of the same marks,
the same petitions
and apologies.

We were impatient, unkind.
We let ego rule the day
and forgot to be thankful.
We allowed our fears
to distance us.

But every year
the ascent through Elul
does its  magic,
shakes old bitterness
from our hands and hearts.

We sit awake, itemizing
ways we want to change.
We try not to mind
that this year’s list
looks just like last.

The conversation gets
easier as we limber up.
Soon we can stretch farther
than we ever imagined.
We breathe deeper.

By the time we reach the top
we’ve forgotten 
how nervous  we were
that repeating the climb
wasn’t worth the work.

Creation gleams before us.
The view from here matters
not because it’s different 
from last year
but because we are

and the way to reach God
is one breath at a time,
one step, one word,
every second a chance
to reorient, repeat, return.

Previous posts on Rosh Hoshanah

Muriel Ruykeyser and Denise Levertov: Rosh Hashanah – A Stirring of Wonder

Marge Piercy: Rosh Hashanah – Weave Real Connections

Enid Shomer: How Rosh Hashanah Is Like Swimming

Amichai Yehuda: Theoretically, a Season for Everything

Emma Lazarus: High above Fire and Flood Ye Held the Scroll

Lucille Clifton: On 9-11 Firemen Ascended Jacob’s Ladder

Rashani: Blowing for Hope in the Face of Darkness

Alicia Ostriker: Enter the Days of Awe

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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