Our (Jewish) New Year Resolutions

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and the days in-between are a time to reboot our lives. Are we becoming the kind of person we had hoped to be? Are we building healthy relationships? Are we truly living our values? Are we doing our part to build a better world? Apropos of these questions, here are reflections—and commitments—that four notable women shared with us for the New Year 5777.

Photo by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Photo by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Taking a Stand for Child Refugees

by Caryl M. Stern

In the year ahead I think the issue we must take action on is the global refugee and migrant crisis. With nearly 50 million children displaced by conflict or migrating across borders to escape violence and poverty, we cannot stand by leaving these children vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Without access to quality education and health services too many are having their childhoods interrupted, and in some instances destroyed.

As we enter our week of reflection, I will be committing to do more to assist child refugees and migrants to ensure that they are treated as children first and foremost.

Caryl M. Stern, a 2014 JWI Woman to Watch, is President and CEO, U.S. Fund for UNICEF. She is author of the 2013 book, I Believe in Zero, Learning from the World's Children. Read her exclusive op-ed for JW magazine here.

Am I Being True to the Best Parts of Who I Am?

by Rabbi Susan Landau

At this time of year I am thinking about teshuvah. It is one of the hardest things to do, but that makes it a most grounding practice. Teshuvah is so often mistranslated as "repentance" or "atonement." Its root is actually from the word for turning – and returning. At this time of year, as the circle of Jewish time spirals around itself once more, we are faced with the chance to do teshuvah: to return to our best selves. This is so much harder than simply saying we are sorry. What is my best self? How do I uncover it? 

I try to measure how I’m doing by looking inside myself and out; who am I as an individual person, and who am I as a person in the world? Am I being true to the best parts of who I am at my core? And am I pushing myself to do at least one thing that leads to growth beyond my comfort zone? 

And when these tasks feel too daunting I re-center and remind myself: all the goodness I need is already inside, if only I work hard enough to let it out. Judaism teaches that our souls are pure; our efforts are worthwhile; and even when we inevitably fail to live up to our own expectations, we will always have the chance to return again.

Rabbi Susan Landau of Temple Micah in Washington, DC, is a graduate of Brandeis University and was ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, NY. She enjoys sharing her love of Jewish books and music and cultivating connections among young adults, older adults and every group in between.

A Deeper Commitment to Racial Equity

by Nicky Goren

Photo by Lisa Helfert

Photo by Lisa Helfert

Jews in the U.S. have long been at the forefront of the civil rights movement and other fights for equality. But as we look around us, and truly listen to and hear about the daily experiences of people of color in this country, we have to conclude that our work is not done – and that we must intentionally shift to a deeper commitment to not just equality, but equity. 

As Jews, it is our responsibility to repair the world, and to do that we have to understand what is at the root of the inequitable outcomes for so many people across our country, and then seek to dismantle the systems that perpetuate those uneven outcomes. This means being honest about how structures and systems within our society have intentionally marginalized entire communities, and being honest about our own privileged positions within those systems.

For me, this means voting my conscience, speaking out about oppression, acknowledging and honoring the feelings and experiences of everyone touched by daily injustices, and actively working – both personally and professionally – to be a partner for change. I can no longer be complicit – through silence and inaction – to maintaining the status quo.  As I look to the New Year, this is my resolution. As Jews who have benefitted from all this country has to offer, my hope is that we can lock arms and contribute to change together. Shana Tova.

Nicky Goren, a 2016 JWI Woman to Watch, is president and CEO of the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, which pursues and invests in solutions to build an equitable Greater Washington, DC, community in which people who are economically vulnerable thrive.

Praise Before Criticism

by Rabbi Sherre Hirsch

Recently I overheard a guest at a fine hotel offer the manager some “constructive criticism.” “Please let your housekeeping know that when I am on the phone, I am busy and not to interrupt me by knocking on the door.” When he stepped away, I offered my .02. "Please never mention that comment to your housekeeping, rather thank them for being so efficient and courteous.”

Why is that we always have ample time to complain, but not a second to answer the door?

I realized that we live in a culture of complaining. Complaining is the way we communicate to make ourselves heard and known. And often it works – the squeaky wheel does get the grease. But it is ugly and making our culture even uglier.

This year I am implementing the 3:1 policy. Every time I have a “something to say," I must offer three statements of praise beforehand. And I am asking you to do the same. It is not that I want to silence you from voicing your opinions; rather I want you first to see all the blessings rather than the curses. 

Let’s change the conversation. To transform our world, let’s spend three times more effort on recognizing the assets rather than the deficits. Then together we will create a culture of holiness.

Sherre Hirsch, a 2015 JWI Woman to Watch, is a rabbi, author and spiritual life consultant. She has appeared on a variety of national media outlets and is the author of many articles and two books, including Thresholds How to Thrive Through Life’s Transitions to Live Fearlessly and Regret-Free. Hirsch serves as the Spiritual Life consultant for Canyon Ranch Properties.