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Looking Ahead

The secular new year forces us to look forward, and tradition requires we make resolutions.

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I prefer the Jewish new year, a time to look inward rather than outward and think about the cyclical nature of ritual, to the secular one, with its don’t-look-back determination. On Rosh Hashanah, we ponder how to be our best selves rather than vowing to become a different person.

And yet the secular New Year calls to us. It’s a marker of time passing. Even once we’ve had our youthful spark beaten out of us by childrearing, we’re drawn to the idea of wearing something sparkly, going somewhere festive, and drinking something alcoholic. We want to toast the future, the unknown. We want to make resolutions.

I asked Tablet Magazine’s readers and Facebook friends to share their vows for 2011.

One reader calling herself “Half a Jew” replied: “Use my time wisely, keep focused on my end goals, play with my cat more, and most important, keep remembering to tell my best peeps I love them.” Amen to that. Especially the playing with the cat part.

Another, named Jennifer, said: “The best new year’s resolution I ever made was to never turn down anything in the new year. Wanna go to a hockey game? Yes. Wanna join me for lunch? Yes. Wanna go on tour with me up the West Coast? Yes. That was the year that I did more, saw more. and experienced more fun than I had ever imagined … and all cause I said ‘Yes’ instead of ‘No.’ ” Love it.

My own parenting resolutions for 2011 are similar. “Try to say yes” is a great philosophy for life. (Stephen Colbert thinks so, too!) That doesn’t mean indulging the kids their every whim; it means aiming for “yes” and, if “yes” isn’t possible, figuring out a more affirmative “no.” I hate playing with Playmobil and Lego, but it wouldn’t kill me to do so more than I do. And if the sight of those little farshtunkiner plastic things makes my heart sink too much, I could offer a different “yes”—Blokus, Quirkle, Perfection, story-writing, tangrams or my girls’ new favorite game, “fake newscast.” It’s an old parenting trick, but one I could use more often: When the kids ask for a cookie, I don’t have to bark “No, it’s almost dinnertime.” I could say, “Yes—after dinner.” There’s a difference, and it’s not just semantic.

But back to reader resolutions. Writing on Facebook, one responded: “Same resolution I seem to make every other day—try to be more patient with my kids and enjoy the time I get with them.” True that, too. But like the traditional New Year’s resolutions about losing weight, going to the gym, and enrolling in an adult-ed class, this one is easier said than done.

For whatever it’s worth, here are my other resolutions:

I want to teach Josie to edit video, not only for “fake newscast” but also to encourage her finally to make her All-of-a-Kind Family movie.

I want to be better at scheduling flute practice; be a more attuned and encouraging listener; find more “performance” outlets (even if that just means making Bubbe to sit on the couch and kvell).

I want to be more religious about date night (as much as we love the spawn, being away from them more would be good for my husband and me).

I want to watch Matilda, Singin’ in the Rain, and Freaky Friday as a family.

I want to expand my children’s food horizons, even if it kills me (and them). Recipes welcome, people!

I want to keep better track of the comedy—you’d think as a writer I’d have a record of the kids’ best lines, but no.

And this summer, I swear, I will open a lemonade stand.

What about you?

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I want to keep my children more involved in Mean it with Mitzvah, a campaign I started over 8 years ago when I came to work at CBI in Bergenfield. There, my son, Sam and I started Bears from Bergenfield. We began with one sick boy, one idea, one boy willing to share, one victim of terror, and from one mother,me, to another mother, Sharon, who wanted to show that we could make this idea fly. Now, 8 years later, and 106, 347 toys later, we are still collecting and distributing to children in Israel, Colombia, and here in Bergenfield who are victims of terror or in need. So on Feb. 18th, Shira and I will be flying to Israel to distribute toys to the orphaned children from the Carmel Fires. We land on my Zadie’s z”l birthday. He lived for Israel. I am keeping his legacy alive.

I always try to use Rosh Hashana as a time to focus on spiritual change, so I find one thing that I can begin to do to become a better Jew (attending services every week, committing to leyning Torah, taking on a leadership role, etc.).

For the secular new year, I tend to choose one thing that will improve my life or just make me happier. I tend to go for small, achievable things that will make a difference (such as planning to be 10 minutes early to everything, doing at least one cultural thing a month, etc.).

A few years ago, I resolved at secular new year to turn down social invitations that I wasn’t looking forward to and to give myself permission to leave events when I was no longer enjoying myself. If I’m on the fence, often I feel more comfortable attending an event knowing that I won’t feel stuck there (and tend to have a better time). I have to say it’s probably the best resolution I ever made. This year, I’m getting rid of my unneeded “stuff” and not going to buy new “stuff” until/unless it’s a necessity (the heart of the matter will be defining what’s necessary).

ina baron says:

I’m almost 70 years old and in my youth every resolution I made on Sylvester was filled with excitement and a vision of a bright and colorful year ahead. They reminded me of Channukah candles. But just like Channukah candles these resolutions soon flickered and died
It’s the Shabbos candles that last for a long time. We are encouraged to read or study by them .
In middle age ( Yes Sylvia, 70 is the new 50) these weekly candles have become my time for new resolutions and for reevaluating successes and failures of the past week. Once a year is too long to wait.

And dear young mothers, please be kinder to yourselves. A famous psychiatrist, Donals Winnicot often reminded us in his writings that we only have to be a “good enough mother” (Perfection doesn’t and shouldn’t exist.

Dietz Ziechmann says:

The secular New Year seems so trivial after the religious New Year. Nevertheless, stay sober and have a “good slide” for Silvester. (Purim will be soon enoughfor crazy.)

I like the “yes” concept and I see a place for it, but I’m going in a different direction this year. I’m saying “no” to most extra-curricular activities! I know it sounds harsh, but I think it’s really easy to get swept up in the “this is the drill of parenthood” method of going along with the way other people do things. I’m tired of it. We will be doing a lot more unscheduled things this year!

JCarpenter says:

I appreciate the positive spin on the “Say ‘Yes’” concept—I often catch myself in my first response to anything being “no” or a “wait and see” and have learned to self-correct toward the positive, the experiential, perhaps even prodigal—yet almost always for the better, a better experience, a better relationship (usually saying ‘yes’ to my wife), a better me. I liken the “Say ‘Yes’” to the statement, “if not now, when?”

Nancy says:

We moved to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan a year ago, and I really miss my Jewish groups. So I was pleased to get an email from Kathy, one of my closest friends (in both Jewish and quilting). I write a lot, not to impress anyone else – except perhaps my family and close friends who like to hear from us. I write mostly because I enjoy keeping track of my quilting, and also because I do enjoy reading later about what we did when. We’ve been married for 60 years, and we have lived in a number of different places. So the Memoirs are meaningful to us and also sort of spur us on to think about more ways we have made our life together exciting. We now have five children plus their spouses, 10 living grandchildren, and 18 great-grandchildren. We often tend to think now in terms of four generations. There are no more family members in a generation older than ours, which we now call Gen 1. It’s a weird feeling to me, having grown up with parents, grandparents, and lots of aunts and uncles. Fortunately, there are a few older cousins, all from the same family.

I also have my husband’s family, which has pretty much whittled down to the same generations as mine. Fortunately, we have siblings in both families who keep in touch. One doesn’t need to be Jewish to appreciate the family.

I should also mention that I write poetry. It sort of comes in streaks. When we first moved up here, I tended to write one or two each week on the snow, etc. It’s gotten to be old hat now, I think, but we still like to give them room in our lives. Here is one I wrote on November 13, 2010.

Snow As Promised
Nancy A. Murdock

The weather forecast was snow
And 34 degrees at its peak –
It’s already 34, so it may go lower –
We’re dressed for the weather
And the oatmeal is on the stove.

Its yellow blooms only a memory

And all the leaves are gone
Packed

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Looking Ahead

The secular new year forces us to look forward, and tradition requires we make resolutions.

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