How a New Ritual Transformed my Rosh Hashanah


I have a favorite ritual at Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, and it has nothing to do with synagogue, seeing family or even eating special foods. For the last eight years, I’ve participated in Reboot’s 10Q, an online platform for participants to answer one question per day in their “own secret online space.” The questions are introspective, retrospective and aspirational, encouraging reflection on some of the bigger questions in life, but responses can be silly as well as serious, playful as well as deep. The ten questions are sent every day of the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) and, at the end of the period, the participant’s answers are sent to “the vault.” One year later, just before Rosh Hashanah, they receive an email reminding them what they wrote last year, and they can see how far they’ve come, before starting all over again with their answers for this year.

The questions are the same every year, but I’m never in exactly the same spot twice. Concerns may come up over and over again (“I wish I’d spent more time with my family,” “I’m not sure I’m fulfilling my potential,” “Can I find the kind of community I am looking for?”) but circumstances and the details change, and it’s possible to track progress over the years.

Time in Judaism is not just a cycle, though we go through the same holidays year after year and may have our favorite family traditions and quirks. It’s the repetition – of blessings, foods, family gatherings, questions asked – that helps mark our movement through life. It’s not a circle but a spiral.

The secular new year in Western culture heavily loads the celebration aspect, while resolutions are made quickly as a kind of after thought. December 31st comes and passes, and those resolutions often fall by the wayside in January. The Jewish new year is stretched out, with the reflection traditionally starting in Elul, the Jewish month preceding Rosh Hashanah, and blasts of the shofar (ram’s horn) sounded to wake us from our stale habits and unawareness. We celebrate with friends and family on the new year itself, and then we throw ourselves back into thinking about who we are and who we want to be.

It’s also becoming easier to find ways into meaningful reflection. One thing I love about 10q is its universal relevance and accessibility. You don’t have to be Jewish to participate, none of its language would alienate those who are not, and its questions can be applied to anyone. There are other great initiatives online that mean you don’t have to sit in synagogue (though that can be a powerful part of your practice) to aspire to change for the better this Rosh Hashanah. At the Oshman Family JCC, we are participating in the 92nd Street Y’s #NewYearPrayer campaign on social media, through which individuals and communities share their highest goals for themselves and the wider world. Friends of mine have been posting throughout the month with the hashtag #reflect4rosh, sharing any moment of deeper realization or meaning that strikes them over this period. Or there’s eScapegoat, a kind of online “Jewish confession,” where people can own up (anonymously) to the things they feel they’ve done wrong over the last year.

Social media and the internet often get a bad rap as amplifiers of ego and sources of isolation. But they can connect us – to ourselves and each other. This year, use any of these easy tools to help you think about what’s important, maybe stick a hashtag on it, check out what others are doing under the same hashtag, and see how you can be part of a worldwide wave of people, improving themselves and the communities around them.

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Joel Stanley

Written by Joel Stanley

Joel was the Oshman Family JCC’s Director of Jewish Innovation. It was his job to infuse programs with Jewish values and content while helping create new forms of Jewish expression. Originally from London, UK, he doubles as an actor, director, and theatre-maker. Joel's other passions include Burning Man, Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, and Scrabble.

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