Gertrude Stein said, "A rose is a rose is a rose." But if you think about it, a calendar is not a calendar is not a calendar. In fact, most Jews living in the United States have at least two different calendars that sometimes are telling us quite different things.
For example, as American Jews living in a mostly-accepting country that is 90% Christian and that has its roots in Rome, we tend to think of a year as something that is organized into 365 days. This solar calendar format was created arbitrarily (first by Julius Caesar in ancient Rome and later revised by Pope Gregory XIII in the 16th century) into 12 months of varying lengths--31 days in some months, 30 in others, 28 in February with an added day every four years. These Roman and Christian leaders issued decrees saying everyone must follow the Julian/Gregorian Calendar which begins each year a few days after Christmas.
So if we want to function well in a business or social world where most cell phones, iPods, Blackberry's, wall calendars, and pocket calendars are organized according to the Julian/Gregorian rules, then we probably need to utilize this Rome-decreed solar format that says confusing things about the Jewish holidays such as, "Rosh Hashanah is in October during some years and in late September in other years, but in a rare few years the Jewish new year is as early as the evening of September 8, 2010 and the day of September 9, 2010." For our kids and grandkids, nieces and nephews, that means this year that the shofar is blowing at the same time they are purchasing new pencils and erasers.
WHAT DETERMINES THE HEBREW CALENDAR?
The reason for this annual disparity between the calendar of the American marketplace and the calendar of the Jewish soul is that in Judaism there is a profound and holy system of counting the days. Unlike the Julian/Gregorian calendar that forces each solar year into 365.25 days with months of varying man-made lengths, the Hebrew calendar connects us with the natural cycles of the moon and the agricultural seasons.
Each month there are a few dark nights when the new moon (and the new Hebrew month) have just begun to reflect the hidden light. Then there are a few weeks of increasing light in the night sky, followed by a full moon that makes the oceans and our pulses vibrate a little stronger than usual, and then a slowly declining amount of brightness at night until another new Hebrew month (and another hard-to-see new moon) occurs.
The Hebrew calendar is based on the Torah teachings of the spiritual, agricultural, and deeply personal cycles of our lives. Every 19 years there are 235 lunar months, with an extra lunar month added every 2 or 3 years. The ancient rabbis created a carefully-calibrated mathematical formula to add these extra lunar months every few years to make sure that natural events (the ripening of crops, the annual harvests, the arrival of the morning dew, the cycles of the rainy months, and the celebrations of the world-wide Jewish community) occur at the same time each year.
A TRICK QUESTION: IS ROSH HASHANAH REALLY EARLY THIS YEAR?
If you stop for a moment and think about the fact that Rosh Hashanah is much earlier in 2010 (showing up on September 8th and 9th according to the Julian/Gregorian calendar), it feels odd from a solar/American viewpoint. But on the Hebrew calendar, the holy day of Rosh Hashanah (the head of the year) shows up exactly where it always has been showing up for thousands of years--right there on the First of the month of Tishrei (a Hebrew word that means 'the beginning') when we step out of commodity time and instead find a holy way to appreciate the awe-inspiring Creative Flow that is continually taking place with every act of kindness, creativity, and renewal that we experience daily.
In ancient times, Rosh Hashanah was always on the First of Tishrei. In Los Angeles in 2010 it will also be on the First of Tishrei of the year 5771. Try telling that to your iPod or your Blackberry way of viewing time, which on some deep level might be freaking out and saying things like, "Wow, it sure seems early this year" or "Where do I get the apps for knowing clearly that a new chapter of my life can begin on the First of Tishrei 5771?"
YOU STILL HAVE TIME TO GET READY
Even though the beautiful melodies, the deeply insightful teachings, and the soul-stirring meditations of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur will show up much sooner than your American mind-set might have been expecting this year, please don't worry. There is still time to get ready for your honest and revealing one-on-One chats with "the still small Voice within" or with "the mysterious Presence that is creating the world constantly and eternally." The Jewish calendar gives us several inspiring ways to start doing the profound inner searching of exactly how we want to repair what's out of synch in our lives so we can enter the new year with more clarity, compassion, and strength.
For example, at Ahavat Torah Congregation on the Westside of Los Angeles, there are going to be several "everyone is welcome" opportunities to go deeper into your own inner life and clarify what will make the new year even more fulfilling and meaningful than the previous year. Led by Rabbi Miriam Hamrell, Cantorial Soloist Gary Levine, Rabbinic Intern Susan Nanus, and others, the pre-holiday classes and the Days of Awe gatherings are designed to celebrate the precious gift of life, the struggle to deal with our human distractions, and the chance to turn toward an even more connected and positive life during the New Year 5771.
WHAT'S ON YOUR CALENDAR?
Specifically, there are several events that will be extremely inspiring and useful for anyone who has celebrated a traditional Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur before and also for those who are going deeper into Jewish spirituality and personal growth for the first time in your adult life. These gatherings (for members and non-members of this diverse and non-judgmental congregation) are:
(No guilt trips here. You can attend some or all of these upcoming events...)
TWO SPIRITUAL PREPARATION OPPORTUNITIES. On Tuesday night August 17th and Tuesday night August 31st from 7-9 p.m. in the Fireside Room of 343 Church Lane in Brentwood. These classes with Rabbi Miriam Hamrell and Rabbinic Intern Susan Nanus will focus on "Preparing Your Heart for the High Holy Days" and will deal with huge questions such as the background of the High Holy Day prayer, "Who by Fire" which explores the mysteries of what is free will and what is determined. Make sure to check the Ahavat Torah weekly newsletter for details. (If you want to receive this colorful and informative weekly newsletter, please contact Dr. Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org)
LETTING GO AND BEING RENEWED IN THE MIKVAH. Rabbi Miriam Hamrell will once again guide a group of members and non-members to experience the holy waters of the Mikvah at American Jewish University (near Mulholland and Sepulveda) during the first week of September. There's nothing quite like immersing yourself in living waters to begin the new year in a profound way (especially if you've never done it before). Watch the weekly newsletter for details and how to sign up for this unique opportunity.
SELICHOT SERVICES. In a beautiful and intimate prayer service and discussion on the Saturday evening (7-9 p.m. on September 4th) the week prior to Rosh Hashanah, we will gather to explore the deeper meanings and sacred melodies of forgiveness and the steps for turning in a more positive direction. All are invited. For details, watch the newsletter.
EREV ROSH HASHANAH and ROSH HASHANAH DAY. Come experience the powerful music, the profound questions, the warmth of the congregation, the sacred prayers and meditations, the respect for diverse viewpoints, and the chance to begin the New Year with forgiveness, healing, and strength. Please plan ahead of time to bring a friend, loved one, or colleague to join our passionate participatory singing and the inspiring, easy-to-follow services held in the beautiful sanctuary of Kehillat Maarav in Santa Monica. Wednesday night, September 8th from 7-9 p.m. and Thursday, September 9th from 10 a.m. - 12:45 p.m. Visit the website at http://www.ahavattorahcongregation.org/ or call 310 362-1111 for details and low-cost fees for members and non-members. Please RSVP for yourself and your guests as soon as possible so that the planners of the services will be able to prepare for a sizeable gathering.
TASHLICH AND LUNCH. On the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah, join us for a friendly and enjoyable lunch at the Rosenblatt's home near the beach in Santa Monica followed by a stroll to the ocean where we will make tangible and mindful the specific things we choose to let go of this year and the things we want to renew or strengthen. The lunch is at approximately 2 p.m. and the Tashlich ocean-front service and meditation (while tossing bread crumbs into the waters) will follow the lunch and be over by approximately 4 p.m. Directions and parking permits will be given out at the Rosh Hashanah morning services.
KOL NIDRE on EREV YOM KIPPUR.
YOM KIPPUR DAY and YAHRZEIT MEMORIAL SERVICES.
BREAKING THE FAST after Yom Kippur Services.
Many people have told us that the Ahavat Torah services for Kol Nidre, Yom Kippur, Yahrzeit (Remembrance), and the Break-the-Fast Dinner are the most accessible, welcoming, thoughtful, and uplifting gatherings they've ever experienced for High Holy Days. Everyone is welcome to attend,whether you are a lifelong Jew or someone who has kept your distance from organized religion or someone who has explored several spiritual traditions but there is still something very Jewish about your soul. Please visit the website http://www.ahavattorahcongregation.org/ or call 310 362-1111 to get more information and low-cost fees for these awe-inspiring moments held in the sanctuary of Kehillat Maarav in Santa Monica. ALSO, PLEASE SEND IN AS SOON AS POSSIBLE YOUR NAME, YOUR MEMORIAL LIST OF NAMES FOR THE BOOK OF REMEMBRANCE, AND ANY GUESTS WE SHOULD CONTACT SO THAT WE CAN ALL BE AN EQUAL PART OF THIS HOLY AND SACRED GATHERING.
YOUR CALENDAR/YOUR SELF
Whether you tend to live primarily according to the solar calendar or the Hebrew lunar calendar, or both, the Jewish New Year is a time to re-set your internal clock. Do you want another year of feeling rushed and disconnected? Or would you prefer a New Year of deeper meaning, connection, caring, and fulfillment?
In Judaism, the tone for the upcoming year (and how you want your next chapter in the Book of Life to be written) get influenced strongly during the weeks leading up to the sacred Days of Awe and at the holy moments of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Please make sure you clarify what might be out of synch in your life right now, and take steps to establish the tone and the quality of life that you deeply desire. And may you and your loved ones have a wonderful and healthy New Year.