Sunday, January 1, 2012

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Reflections on New Year's Resolutions for 2012


It's time to wish all of our readers a Happy New Year and to make resolutions for 2012. But wait a minute! Didn't we just do this a few months ago on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?

Well, yes and no. Yes to the wishing a Happy (and also Healthy and Prosperous) New Year. But we're not so sure about the resolutions part.

When you got home from shul after Yom Kippur services were over, did you get out a pad of paper, laptop, iPad, or smartphone and start making a list of specific changes you were going to try to achieve in the new year?  To be perfectly honest, we didn't. How could we, in our rush to put out the bagels, cream cheese, and other delicacies for the traditional break-fast?

Isn't it funny that on Yom Kippur we recite, over and over again, a set of 44 Al Chets, mistakes that we, the collective Jewish people, are sorry that we made during the past year, but there is no formal place in the services to list positive steps for change that we plan to take in the year to come?  

Of course, we're not going to actually write a list on the day of Yom Kippur, and there's an implied promise that we won't repeat the same mistakes next year. But unless we translate these very general categories of mistakes into a personal action plan, it's hard to think of the avoidance of general mistakes as New Years Resolutions. It's especially difficult when we have asked forgiveness for:
- the mistakes we committed before you willfully and intentionally
- the mistakes we committed before you by exercising power
- the mistakes we committed before you with eye movements
- the mistakes we committed before you with a strong forehead
Even the Al Chets that are more specific, like mistakes we committed before you with food and drink, or in business, are easy to dismiss as just another prayer in our rush to put up the Sukkah and start cooking for yet another Yom Tov.

But why write about Yom Kippur and Al Chet now, when we're starting a secular New Year?

Because there's a lesson here that we can learn from our secular friends and neighbors. The secular New Year's Day, January 1, long stripped of any religious meaning, can be a boon to us by infusing Jewish values into the New Year's resolutions that the secular world reminds us of every New Year's eve. 

For sure, nobody makes a resolution to abstain from using  a strong forehead, exercising power, or watching eye movements. But we can resolve to think through consequences (both intended and unintended) before making important decisions, we can resolve to not take advantage of anyone who is in a weaker physical or economic condition, and we can resolve to look people in the eye when having conversations and listening carefully to what they have to say before jumping in to make our point. These are just a few examples of how we can turn the mistakes (some say sins) that we renounce on Yom Kippur into positive actions if we think about applying Jewish values in making resolutions for the New Year.

So we, individually, and bloggerly (is that a word?) will be making a list of behavioral improvements for the coming year and trying to adhere to them for as long as possible.  By way of example, we came across a list of resolutions written in 1943 by Woody Guthrie, the legendary folk singer who gave us This Land is Your Land and So Long, It's Been Good to Know You among the hundreds of songs that he wrote.

Guthrie was not Jewish, but his second wife, and mother of Arlo Guthrie (Alice's Restaurant, The City of New Orleans) was the daughter of Aliza Greenblatt, a Yiddish poet. So, writing his list while living in the Jewish neighborhood of Coney Island in Brooklyn, he just might have been influenced by the values of his shvigger (mother-in-law) and neighbors.

Here is the actual list that Guthrie wrote and illustrated by hand:


Our favorites?  Learn people better, stay glad, and keep hoping machine running. 

If we've made you yearn for a few choruses of This Land is Your Land, here they are, as sung by Woody Guthrie himself. Enjoy, make a list, and have a Happy New Year!

(A SPECIAL NOTE FOR NEW EMAIL SUBSCRIBERS:  THE VIDEO MAY NOT BE VIEWABLE DIRECTLY FROM THE EMAIL THAT YOU GET EACH DAY ON SOME COMPUTERS AND TABLETS.  YOU MUST CLICK ON THE TITLE AT THE TOP OF THE EMAIL TO REACH THE JEWISH HUMOR CENTRAL WEBSITE, FROM WHICH YOU CLICK ON THE PLAY BUTTON IN THE VIDEO IMAGE TO START THE VIDEO.)