Forget January, autumn always has been and always will be my personal new year.
Summer is slowing down, gently pulling back to reveal autumn and as I am every year, I am filled with energy, with the possibility and newness of the season. This is my second autumn since deciding to convert to Judaism and with that decision came a new lens with which to view my favorite time of year- the Jewish new year.
As I reach the end of the Hebrew month of Elul- a time of reflection and getting ready for the radical soul-baring renewal of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and Rosh Hashanah (Jewish new year), I’m grateful for a tradition that builds in time to prepare. Elul is like the final month before you go back to school when your only priority is to savor every moment of sun-drenched relaxation you can have.
Except with more Torah, if that’s your thing.
I adore the warmth and the bright vibration of early autumn. Growing up moving between countries, I would always arrive somewhere new in late August. My heart would flutter as the plane took off from Washington Dulles Airport and my eyes would dart wildly, even if it was the middle of the night, eager to take everything once we landed in a country I’d never seen before that would become my new home.
New languages, new schools, whole new universes vibrating with possibility were revealed to me during these autumns.
One of the first things that I fell in love with when I got serious about becoming Jewish was the Hebrew calendar.
It may sound strange, but I delighted in the new year coming in the autumn, and in the months changing with no regard for the wider world around me- just the moon. I’m not sure if people outside understand just how much of an agrarian, nature-focused tradition Judaism is.
The major holidays are defined by the growing season they fall in and which they historically celebrated.
During the new year, the bounty of the late-summer harvest touches everything. Ripe round pomegranates and apples adorn Rosh Hashanah tables across the world and the weekly Challah, usually an oblong braided bread, is filled with fruit and honey and wrapped in a round boule, symbolizing the circular nature of time and the sweetness of new beginnings.
In autumn, I see G-d everywhere, in family and friends gathered around the table and the way the earth shifts around me.
I find myself enamored by pumpkins, apples, kale.
Federweisser, the partially fermented wine that is drunk here in Germany is sold by the liter and the season’s first wild game arrives at the market.
Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of a time of plenty, but after the new year, instead of jumping headfirst into new things, we turn solemn.
A week later, the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur arrives. In English, it’s sometimes called the Day of Atonement.
Yom Kippur is a twenty-five hour fast which most people spend in a synagogue, asking to be forgiven, reflecting, and committing to turn away from our missteps and course-correct in the new year. The fast can be grueling, but it puts the joyful abundance of autumn into perspective and makes the whole thing sweeter.
I have never left a New Year’s party feeling in any way energized, restored or prepared for a new year of challenges and joys. The first day of January feels arbitrary, another cold winter day in a long line of cold winter days.
It never meant anything to me and it probably never will, but that’s ok.
If you need me, I’ll be starting the new year, breaking bread and sharing wine with the people I love in September.