Queen Elizabeth II has gone to her ancestors. King Charles III reigns. Life in Britain and the Commonwealth goes on. Sounds like Rosh Hashanah.
I monitored Elizabeth’s death and the rituals leading up to, and including, her funeral. Admittedly, I didn’t watch all that much; Carolyn followed the events far more extensively. As to the monarchy continuing, I hold no position. Brits and citizens of the Commonwealth can reach their own decisions on maintaining that institution.
But, I believe that willing subjects of the monarchy enjoy something important. They find in it a sense of continuity that, while not able to overcome turbulent times, makes periods of uncertainty more bearable.
It’s said that the only constant is change. Almost but not quite. Prime ministers—and their political philosophies—come and go. The economy soars and plummets. Unrest alternates with contentment. Yet through it all, people delight when their monarch—it’s Charles’ turn—greets children in schools, patients and healthcare providers in hospitals, workers in factories. Christian Britons savor the sovereign’s Christmas greeting. All welcome warm wishes for the secular New Year.
Is this form of stability an illusion? Not if the Crown’s subjects experience some sense of steadiness in a world that continually seems to be slipping its moorings.
This brings us to Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
The last 3,000 years have subjected Jews to much horror. Antisemitism continues globally, including here in the United States where its roots run deep. Ken Burns’ three-part documentary, The U.S. and the Holocaust, asks what prevented the U.S. in the 1930s and ’40s from taking in many more Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany and conquered nations than it did? The straightforward answer: Americans.
Every late-summer/early fall—given the lunar/solar Jewish calendar, holidays move within their seasons—comes Rosh Hashanah, the head of the year. A ten-day period of joy and introspection brings us to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
The High Holy Days don’t signify that God’s in His heaven and all’s right with the world. People determine the “all’s right” part. The Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel was asked about the Holocaust; he survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald: “Where was God?” Fair question. Wiesel’s apt answer: “Where was Man?”
The new Jewish year—Sunday night ushers in 5783—provides the opportunity to look inward and express our hopes for better selves and a better tomorrow. We renew our belief that each of us can influence the world around us, that small deeds can play a big role in healing humanity and our planet.
In Britain, King Charles will soon participate in his coronation. Hundreds of millions—maybe billions—of people will watch TV or go online to witness the pomp and circumstance.
This Sunday, a few million Jews will go to synagogue to praise Avinu Malkeinu, our Father, our King. (Those favoring gender neutrality will salute our Parent, our Ruler.) Others will mark the holiday at a festive dinner. (These aren’t mutually exclusive.) Observing the ten Days of Awe in whatever fashion one chooses enables Jews to touch base with their heritage and the Infinite, see the best in themselves and others.
Granted, I will not be reading my prayer book through rose-colored glasses. But I will find comfort.
May the New Year bring you and yours health, peace and a sense of contentment.
The weekly post will take a pause next Friday and return October 7.
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