Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
New Year’s is a massive celebration we have been looking forward to for some time. Before we head off to the night club to party, before we pop that champagne cork, let’s take a few steps back. The secular New Year is not just a chance to party, it is also a time for starting over. Few of us really stop to contemplate the significance of a new year. The self-improvement process that surrounds the Jewish celebration of the New Year, Rosh Hashanah, offer us an important opportunity for re-energizing, renewal and reflection that will help us in 2012.
10. Sound the alarm. One day can merge into the next and before we know it January 1st, 2012, will have come and gone. We slip easily into the same routines, the same lives, the same reality. We need to sound the alarm now so that we can prepare ourselves for this amazing opportunity at rebirth and renewal.
9. Heal damaged relationships. Each year we wrong someone close to us and sometimes this leads to an ugly falling out. Yet, we still love this person. We still care for them, but because of egos we can’t admit fault and say we are sorry. If you ever wanted to reach out, but just couldn’t do it, now is your chance. You call and say. “I’m calling to say I’m really sorry. I really want that in 2012 we rebuild our friendship. New Year’s is a convenient time to make-up.
8. Self-improvement starts with personal responsibility. We all want to become better people and realize our potential in 2012. While we might hope that our New Year’s resolutions will stick, first we must recognize past mistakes and character flaws before we can hope for new resolutions to have a chance. When we own up to our shortcomings, we can truly become better people, realize our potential and have a chance for personal growth in the New Year.
7. Time for an accounting of the soul. Sometimes we are not even sure how to do the right thing. Sometimes, even when we know the good deeds that we could be doing, we are not sure how to start. On the New Year we can search our soul and see what is preventing us from initiating and expanding the good we do in the world.
6. Time for an accounting of the mind. How we think has such a deep impact on what we do. We jumped to negative conclusions, without giving people the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps we stood by when we could have made a difference, and are full of regret. We stayed in abusing relationships. We let negativity cloud our thoughts. As we prepare for the New Year we clean out our head-space from self-doubt and negativity. Giving charity, gifts, and loving kindness helps us actualize the positive impact we can have this new year.
5. Set realistic goals. Audits are exhausting. Now we know how far we have to go after doing these accountings. We want instant results. In our desire to repair our lives, if we start on all repairs at once, we can end up setting ourselves up for failure. Saints were not born overnight. Lives are not fixed in the tick of the clock. It can be harder to change one character flaw, than anything else we have tried. By first establishing attainable goals and then stretch goals we set ourselves up to succeed.
4. New Fiscal Year = New Spiritual Year. This past year we paid it forward sometimes, just not enough times. We were content with receiving when we could have been busier giving. Just as we start our financial year from scratch, we can start our spiritual bank accounts over. We have the chance to accumulate great spiritual wealth this year.
3. Celebrate that God has given the world another year. Our lives do not exist in a vacuum. We rejoice at this opportunity to start afresh, yet we also need recognize how our lifestyles affect the world around us. New Years offers us a chance to reflect on how we can live healthier lives in harmony with our surroundings. We have another chance in 2012 to start healing our lives and the planet.
2. Start on the right foot. We know we should always put our best foot forward, but with the New Year we suddenly forget that lesson. Thanks to a few drinks, we begin with headaches and in places that make us feel sick. Instead of with regrets, start the year with sweetness and joy by being with people who are a positive influence on you. Enjoy one an other’s company, with good food, sweet desserts, and a modest amount of wine.
1. Get more spiritual. The world around us is full of materialism, distractions, and the stress of making a livelihood. Consequently, we don’t make enough time for prayer, ritual, contemplation, and being grateful for what we do have. In addition, we made moral and ethical mistakes that damaged or spiritual lives. This New Year, give your spiritual life a chance to really grow by opening a bigger place inside your heart, and fill it with spirit. When we resolve to lead more upright, and conscientious lives we can come closer to the Divine.
Rabbi Yonah answers your questions on Twitter @rabbiyonah. Rabbi Yonah is a contributor to the JewishJournal.com, Huffingtonpost.com, and Jewlicious.com. He is the Director of JConnectLA and Jewlicious Festivals.
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December 26, 2011 | 6:06 pm
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
The bank manager at Citibank ran over to me when I came by this week to show-off the company menorah. Each branch received a menorah. Well, they actually were sent two. What had happened? My friend the manager explained. The first one arrived with only one on-off switch to control all the lights. That was replaced a week later by a new menorah that had one on-off switche for each light. While there we noinstructions included, the bank must be relying on the wisdom of the employees to know what to do.
The entire episode prompted another great conversation with my banker. (As one of the only customers at that branch who is a rabbi, we end up discussing every holiday as they arrive in some detail.) When he was early in his career as a banker, he brought in an electric menorah himself to display at the bank. In his native Russia, the thought that you could even have a menorah in a public place was unthinkable. He proceeded to light all the lights at once for the holiday to really promote Hanukkah and his menorah.
The next thing he knew, a Jewish customer approached and castigated him for not lighting them one at a time. This Russian Jewish immigrant, a junior banker trying to make a difference, was being given lessons in menorah lighting at the bank. Yes, we sometimes overlook the good that people are trying to do. Instead we make sure they are doing things the way we want them, ignoring or forgetting to thank them for trying in the first place.
Later in the day I had to go into an adjacent Wells Fargo branch. The Wells Fargo Christmas Tree dwarfed the 4-footer at the Citibank. It was festooned with a myriad of ornaments and candy canes. Arranged around the base were presents, a stuffed fake reindeer and snow, making a real Christmas diorama. I searched for a menorah and didn’t see one. I asked a banker walking by, “Excuse me, is there a menorah too?” She looked around and said they didn’t have one. To which I replied, “well you better catch up with your competition — Citibank has one!”
At Citibank, while the menorah was small, understated, and directionless, it still fared better than Wells Fargo. There may be other branches of Wells Fargo that are doing things differently in Jewish areas. But Citibank made the effort to ship these menorahs to EVERY branch. It didn’t matter if they were in an area with Jewish clients.
I sometimes wonder if my shopping, banking, or car repairing will depend on a company’s decision of how to celebrate the holidays with their customers. Is there some subliminal or outright conscious decision that I make which determines my behavior toward one bank or another? Can a holiday decoration turn me from being a customer to being critic?
Honestly I don’t expect, nor would I want to see, a 7 foot high menorah with golden inflatable driedels — though that could look kind of cool. But I think in this day and age we can expect some kind of token concession to Hanukkah.
Maybe I’ll just leave it to the expensive consultants to offer suggestions to corporate America to tell them if a menorah is a good idea or not.
Or they can take the advice from a Rabbi for free: a menorah of any size or shape is greatly appreciated.
Rabbi Yonah answers your questions on Twitter.com/rabbiyonah. Rabbi Yonah is Director of Jewlicious Festivals, and blogs on JewishJournal.com, Huffingtonpost.com and Jewlicious.com.
December 13, 2011 | 8:02 pm
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
The Jewish world is in spasms over Matisyahu’s facial hair. Even before I awoke in Los Angeles, text messages were lining up like Chanukah cards from the East Coast, asking “Is it true?” As my witty blogging friend Esther Kustanowitz put it, this was “the beard heard round the world.”
Never before in the history of our ancient people has one man’s beard caused so much commotion. In fact, I am not sure if in the history of beards, one beard has earned so much talk.
In our world obsessed with looks and stardom, Matisyahu’s decision to go beardless now warrants news alerts.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency alert yesterday was “Gingrich sticks by Palestinian comment, draws GOP rebukes.”
Today the alert is about our beloved singer’s decision to shave off his signature bristles, “Matisyahu Shaves off Beard.”
Tens of thousands of people have looked at the photos on Twitter, thousands are commenting on his Web site and Facebook. Even mainstream gossip media sites are chiming in with their own opinions. But all one needs to do is look at what Matisyahu wrote on his blog:
“No more Chasidic reggae superstar. Sorry folks, all you get is me … no alias. … And for those concerned with my naked face, don’t worry … you haven’t seen the last of my facial hair.”
It seems that his own words were not enough. Everyone has an opinion. Rushing to judgment is a national pastime.
There is no obligation in Judaism to wear a beard. It’s not a mitzvah. Facial hair is meant to be an adornment for the face, say the rabbis. The Torah instructs us how to cut the beard — no razors allowed, leave the upper part of the sideburns — but doesn’t require a man to have a beard. While some associate taking off the beard with a lapse in religious observance, that is simply not the case.
Historically, Jews have gone without beards before. Over the ages, Jewish men have used depilatory creams and powders made from nasty stuff that took off the beard. At the most famous yeshiva in pre-war Europe, most men studied bare-faced. The invention of the electric shaver created the opportunity for observant Jewish men to go beardless without killing their faces.
I remember when I started growing my beard 16 years ago, much to the surprise of my fiancee. It had everything to do with my displeasure at shaving, and nothing to do with a fashion or religious statement. My skin is super sensitive, and no matter what kind of electric shaver, creams or treatments I used, my skin could not bear it. With my marital future in place, I took the risk and grew one leading up to my wedding. My grandmother, of blessed memory, was distraught that all the wedding pictures would have me in a beard.
A beard does not make a man. I am sure some famous bard centuries ago wrote something along those lines. Matisyahu’s talent as a singer and performer have little to do with what clothes he wears and what kind of facial hair he prefers. While it might have been his signature look for part of his career, it isn’t any longer.
Rabbi Yonah Bookstein is the executive director of JConnect and the director and founder of Jewlicious Festivals.