September 2016

The Rosh Hashanah wakeup call



By Cindy Sher/

Close your eyes and imagine yourself in the synagogue listening to the blasting of the shofar, something many of us will be doing just a couple weeks from now. Feel the power of the sound—the staccato notes, the longer notes, and the really really long note—reverberate throughout the sanctuary.

The sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah serves as a wakeup call for the Jewish people, a chance to start over with a clean slate.

Maimonides describes the wakeup call in the “Mishneh Torah,” a code of Jewish religious law.

“Arise you who are fast asleep, and awaken you who slumber,” he writes. “Search your deeds, repent, and be mindful of your Creator…”

Now close your eyes again, and this time, look back at the year behind you.

Did you live a year that mattered, and did you fill it with meaning? Did you laugh easily? Did you connect with someone new? Did you cultivate deeper connections with people you already knew? Did you chat with the barista at your coffee house? Did you smile at children?

Did you look up from toggling between apps on your phone to watch a setting sun or notice a full moon? Were you brave enough to take some risks and leap—even if you were scared? Did you dance? Did you say sorry, and mean it, to someone you hurt? Did you wander slowly through the rain? Did you notice lady bugs?

Did you honor your parents, your grandparents, and other people who helped form you into the person you are today? Did you think about how your food gets from the land to your plate? Did you treat your body as a temple—at least some of the time? Did you stand up for the things that matter to you and stick up for people who needed it?

Were you sensitive to the pain and bloodshed of others that you heard about in the news—in Chicago, in Israel, and around the world? Were you present? Did you teach your children to be kind to people, to animals, and to the earth? Did you give tzedakah? Did you give thanks each day for something in your life? When you spoke about other people, were you thoughtful about what you chose to say? Did you appreciate the fact that someone always has it worse than you do, and did you recognize that you’re luckier than most people in this world? Were you honest? Did you trust?

Did you give yourself a break about the things beyond your control? Did you value the sacrifices of your ancestors that made the world a better place? Were you a mentor to anyone? Did you open your mind and listen to people whose beliefs and ideas are different from your own? Did you let a baby’s tiny hand grasp your finger? Did you give big tips? Did you visit someone sick? Did you read and learn about something new? Did you do something you didn’t really feel like doing because you knew it would make someone else happy?

Did you stand and say the mourner’s Kaddish prayer for someone you loved and lost, or did you say it alongside someone else who lost a loved one? Did you learn a new skill? Did you smell rosemary, pinewood, vanilla, or cinnamon? Did you invite a guest to come and share your Shabbat table? Did you dream big?

Okay, now that you’ve looked back over the past year, close your eyes again—but this time look ahead to next year.


How will you fill your life and the lives of others with spirituality, meaning, and love? Who will you surround yourself with?

We, Jews, are lucky for a chance to take stock—to awaken from our slumber—and then press reset for a new year.

Wishing you and your loved ones a year ahead filled with health, happiness, sweetness, fulfillment, and peace. L’shana tovah umetuka!


Cindy Sher is the executive editor of Chicago’s JUF News.


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