With December coming to an end and 2013 looming, I was wondering if it is permitted to make New Year’s resolutions even if it is not our New Year? Sometimes I think a mid-year refresher couldn’t hurt us a bit. Is it against Jewish law to recognize this time of year as a new start?
Lucky for us, teshuvah is not relegated merely to the Rosh Hashanah season. According to our tradition, each and every Rosh Chodesh (new month) is a fine time to redirect and recharge. Live it up. Grab any chance to self-reflect — it’s all good.
Whether it is the darkening of the days or pitter-patter of persistent precipitation, there are three burning issues keeping me up at night, things that need — shall I say — some resolute attention. I will leave worries of the financial cliff, Iran and global warming to others. Here are my three epic qualms for the New Year.
The Kindness Factor. Warning: I will be invoking the Holocaust. Ten days at the International School at Yad Vashem this summer reawakened the slightly Shoah-fixated hypersensitivity to Jewish-on-Jewish animosity. Our ongoing petty in-fighting and blatant disregard for deep Jewish values of care, understanding, and empathy for one another is disheartening.
After being immersed in the horrors perpetrated against our people, it simply becomes beyond comprehension why a Jew would ever purposely cause distress to a fellow Jew. Call me naïve. Call me Pollyanna. There seems to be an adequate dose of awfulness from the outside; do we need to contribute to each other’s pain from the inside? I too will now ask: Why can’t we all just get along? Life is too short to allow demeaning communal squabbles to run amok.
Tragically, not unlike bullying, most of these squabbles are around issues of self-worth and self-esteem. Healthy folks who are comfortable with who they are rarely get into an ongoing fracas. They reserve their precious mind-space for their work, well-being and family. The diabolical shenanigans that can take over a community are rarely perpetrated by the high-minded. How to avoid being sucked in? Take that oft-spoken-of high road, draw on your best Mussar teachings, and put yourself in the place of the other.
Action item: Step away from the pettiness and approach grandness of spirit. Forgive and move on. Be an example to others. Life is short and we are few in number. Avoid at all costs folks for whom drama is their modus operandi. Not unlike most worthwhile endeavors, this too must be practiced until one achieves mastery. Faced next time with an opportunity to disparage, cease and desist from the conversation! More than anything else, this will contribute to world peace.
On a lighter note, The Insomnia of the Electronic Reader Phenomenon. Disclaimer: the Kletenik household boasts a Kindle and a Kindle Fire. Hence, I speak not from outright abhorrence but rather from firsthand knowledge. But I have this thing with books. It’s called crazy love. It’s insatiable. It is irrational.
I open a book that was once my father’s or mother’s, and the smell from its pages wafts into the air and I am transported back to my childhood home. I slide my fingers across the pages and feel the print protruding upward, each letter struggling for its own place. The spine crackles a bit and the yellow pages are frail to the touch. “Be careful,” it whispers, “I’ve been around and I’ve got stories to tell.”
Dramatic underlining, blue and red — what do they mean? Bookshelves lined with volumes that have long since acquainted themselves with their neighbors to the right and to the left. They stand proudly at attention, backs straight as soldiers, lending an austere ambience to an otherwise unremarkable playroom. I read an inscription from yesteryear written in the handwriting of once upon a time: “To My Beloved Sister. Fondly, Your Devoted Brother.” Who does this sugary inscribing thing anymore? What will be of all of this when our grandchildren read all their books on e-readers? What’s the plan here? Will we be emptying all those shelves and loading all those tomes on one single cold plastic mechanism? Folks, what will line the shelves of our grandchildren? This keeps me up at night.
Food Shows. Bam! You heard me, Rachel, Ina, Paula, Jamie, Top Chef, Iron Chef, Master Chef: You are causing me untold loss of sleep. Plated, tasted, amuse bouche. Sous-vide, throw down. That’s enough. Yes, I was enamored and entertained. William Deresiewicz said it best in his New York Times op-ed:
“But what has happened is not that food has led to art, but that it has replaced it. Foodism has taken on the sociological characteristics of what used to be known — in the days of the rising postwar middle class, when Mortimer Adler was peddling the Great Books and Leonard Bernstein was on television — as culture.”
Remarkable as this may sound, but not a week after reading this illuminating piece I was actually told that a community event would be featuring “high society” food and wine, and the word “culture” was sprinkled in there as well. A clanging alarm went off in my mind as the words, so deliciously cooked up by Deresiewicz, found their way to my frontal lobe. Aha! The evidence! Foodism, running wild.
What is becoming of us, that we are so preoccupied by the plate that we have neglected the stage and the page? When did the palate become the favored conduit for tasting the unknown? Where once it was the redemptive eminence of art, poetry, the salon, the essay, now it is Iron Chef. Redemption?
I get that food is not just fuel. I get that it is an outlet for creativity. I get that delectable and delicious sustenance can communicate tradition, heritage, love and care. But it cannot be the central focus of our need for soul-feeding inspiration. It has all gone too far.
Action Item: This year, let’s read a classic that we never got to, get ourselves a collection of poetry to consider, attend a play and the symphony. Do not let it be said of our age that we surrendered Shakespeare, Whitman and Mozart for Bobby Flay, Tom Colicchio and the many celebrity chefs.