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Rosh Hashanah resolutions from Matisyahu, Michael Showalter, Ayelet Waldman, and others

Marc Tracy
September 18, 2009

With weather changing, the school year getting underway, and Rosh Hashanah’s arrival, it’s a propitious moment for resolutions. Tablet Magazine asked several people for theirs.

Matisyahu, hip-hop artist

All are related to consciousness and health:

1. I would like to only put healthy things in my body. This includes eating more consciously, cooking my own food, and buying locally grown veggies, organic products, etc.

2. Exercise. I would like to have one consistent exercise. Not go crazy or anything, just simple stuff: ride a bike, take a hike, etc.

3. I would like to visit the Hasidic rebbes’ gravesites in Europe and spend time at each one, learning the teachings of that rebbe.

4. I would like to continue working on being present in whatever I am doing. To do things with truth, whole-heartedly.

Daphne Merkin, writer

To try in my personal habits to be more like Benjamin Franklin and less like Courtney Love. Early to bed and early to rise, that sort of thing. (Right now I stay up late, watching Iron Chef and Lock Up, when I should be reading Chekhov at the very least; and I get up near noon, by which time Christopher Hitchens has already produced 1,500 words on the issue of the day.)

To try and enjoy the little things; to stop looking for a blaze of light followed by a loud bang, or the transformative phone call, or the email that arrives out of the blue and will change everything. To be happy with my share instead of envying everyone who has a larger apartment. To appreciate that I am alive even though I’m not as thin or young or productive or, well, anything, as I had hoped to be.

To love where I am loved instead of pining after the unreachable or ungettable person (meaning man) without whom my life is incomplete. To accept that most couples are compromised arrangements at best and “the lion’s share of happiness,” to quote my beloved, never-married Philip Larkin, doesn’t necessarily belong to them. To remember that a woman without a man is like a woman without a man—pathetic in a noble sort of way.

To find some route back to the Jewishness I have cast off—not lightly, I might add—and for which I harbor great nostalgia. Not enough to make me actually seek out a shul that might suit me or to return to keeping separate kitchens in my apartment, but enough to hanker after Friday night invitations. To find some way of inserting it in my life in a meaningful fashion—whether it be taking a class or learning how to make gefilte fish from scratch.

Michael Showalter, comedian, star of Comedy Central’s Michael and Michael Have Issues

1. Improve backhand.

2. Learn to speak cat language.

3. Understand meaning of life.

4. No more ice cream every single night.

Naomi Alderman, author of Disobedience

I’m not generally big on New Year’s resolutions; I feel that being in therapy ought to cover my self-improvement needs for the year. Why improve yourself when you can outsource and have someone else do it for you?

However, as the festive season approaches I have been thinking that next year I really want to try to be more forgiving. It’s a very Christian-sounding resolution, I know. It’s not about “turning the other cheek,” though, but a more pragmatic approach: I’ve noticed that individuals who are unforgiving end up coming across as bitter and annoying. So for the sake of my soul or maybe just for the sake of appearances: more forgiveness this year.

Otherwise, there are just the constant ongoing resolutions of the battles one can never win. Answer email more promptly. Do not allow the washing up to sit around for several days. Go to the gym more often. Set a writing schedule and stick to it this time, goddammit—think of Trollope in his study, writing for three hours every morning from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m., and then going off to run the post office, be more like that. Get a post office, perhaps.

I once made a list of all the things I thought I should be doing on a daily basis and estimated how long each one would take. The total came to 28 hours a day, and didn’t include any time for sleep. Maybe I really need to learn to be more forgiving of myself.

Douglas Century, writer and author of Nextbook Press’s Barney Ross: The Life of a Jewish Fighter

I’d love to be able to explain basic biblical stories to my six-year-old daughter without having to look them up on Google. The other day, when I mentioned the story of Abraham (almost) sacrificing Isaac, she looked deeply troubled, and said, “I don’t understand—why would God tell Abraham to kill his own son?” I stammered something about how God was just testing Abraham, then found myself getting online and scrolling through website after website to read the various explanations for the Binding of Isaac. I realized I couldn’t remember the exact motives for Cain killing Abel, either. Or list more than a handful of Joseph’s brothers. Since my daughter is starting her religious education this year, it would be nice to relearn the stories that the 12-year-old me knew by heart.

I also use way too much profanity, especially driving. Since cursing under my breath at other aggressive drivers seems hardwired into my reptilian brain, and since I’m often driving with my daughter in her car seat behind me, I’m also constantly half-turning and apologizing for using bad language. “Daddy shouldn’t have said that, honey, you’re right.” It happens, too, when I’m on the phone. I’ve tried spelling out curse words, but Lena caught me at the first “S-H-I–.” So, I resolve to make every effort to clean up my act. Perhaps it’ll make me calmer and happier too.

Finally, I’m sure most people resolve to be more productive and focused each day. I need to go through a kind of social networking detox, or at least stop rationalizing hours wasted in the sinkholes of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube by telling myself it’s time spent doing “research.”

1. Pay more attention to my husband.

2. Not worry as much about my children’s futures.

3. Turn off my damn appliances to save energy.

Mimi Sheraton, former New York Times food critic and Tablet Magazine food columnist

1. I resolve never again to serve my Italian husband matzo balls marinara or noodle kugel—which he abhors as “sweet pasta.”

2. I resolve not to tell guests that my chopped chicken livers contain gribenes. Let them enjoy!

3. I resolve never again to grate potatoes for latkes in my Cuisinart. From now on, it’s a hand-held, four-sided grater or nothing.

4. I resolve to lose the last 10 pounds. Doesn’t everyone?

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.