MapQuesting the Jewish New Year

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By Rabbi Jamie Arnold

Forecasting our future is no easier than forecasting the weather. The Jewish symbol of the Book of Life is a reminder of that, as are the daily news reports. Uncertainty and confusion abound: hurricanes and fires; unemployment and unstable markets; not to mention the changes at home — deaths and births, nests emptying, and parents aging.

Even in ever-green Evergreen, change is inevitable. We are not, however, powerless in the face of change! We can choose both how we react to change and how we effect change. This is the underlying message of the Jewish New Year, which begins at sundown on Wednesday, Sept. 28.

Jewish tradition sets aside this coming lunar cycle as a time dedicated to recalibrating the compass and intentionally setting the course of future change for the better — to make this coming year a Shanah Tovah, A Year of Good Change.

I approach this task in much the same way I would find my way to any new destination, by answering these three simple questions: 1) Where am I now? 2) Where do I want to go? And, 3) how do I get there?


Where am I now?

When I log onto MapQuest, I am often so focused on the destination that I often forget to type in where I am traveling from. Without that information, the website is unlikely to offer useful directions. Am I where I want to be in life? Am I happy? What is the status of the relationships in my life? Looking back on where I came from, am I changing for the better? There is wisdom in engaging the first question in the Bible. In Genesis 3:9, God calls to humankind, “Where are you?”


Where do I want to go?

When I imagine what I ultimately want — for myself, my family, Evergreen, America, our planet — what does it look like? If the destination is elusive, try starting with a direction. Hear the echoes of the command in Genesis 12:2 to Abram: “Go you forth, to a land that I will (eventually) show you.” Picture a “promised land” and find it on the map.


How do I get there?

We know from life, and from modern GPS technologies, that there are multiple routes to the same destination. Often a “wrong turn” turns out to be the way that was “meant to be.” All changes to routines and long-held expectations are difficult to make, but those first few turns off the beaten path are especially difficult. This, I believe, is why synagogues are fuller this time of year than any other. The ability to initiate change is somehow easier when we remember that we are not alone. Together we are better equipped to transform the experience of change from flinches of fear into glimpses of wonder.

In a world filled with uncertainty and change, may we map and quest our way to a promising future. May we channel the changes in our selves and in our world so as to inscribe the next chapter in the Book of Life with honey-sweet joy and lasting peace.

Happy New Year, one and all.


Jamie Arnold is the rabbi at Congregation Beth Evergreen.