I’ve never been one to make “resolutions” on the secular New Year. It was never as meaningful to me as the cheshbon hanefesh, the spiritual accounting of my soul, that I did each year at the High Holy Days. Nonetheless, it is impossible not to ponder what might help make 2014 an even better year than 2013. Rather than focusing on dieting, balancing my checkbook or organizing my closet (though I could certainly benefit from any or all of those things), I would prefer to focus on what could make the life of a Reform Jew more meaningful this coming year. So, I present my own list of A Reform Jew’s New Year’s Resolutions.
1) Be proud to be a Reform Jew. You belong to beautiful, welcoming, growing and inspiring family in the Jewish community.
As Reform Jews, we are part of a dynamic, living, and evolving tradition that is also strongly rooted in tradition and our heritage. In recognizing that all are created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, we are open and welcoming to family structures of all kinds, and we open our doors to all who wish to enter.
Neshama Carlebach, an incredible artist and musician, and the daughter of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, z”l, recently decided to “make aliyah” to Reform Judaism from her previous basis in both Orthodox and Conservative movements. She captured much of the spirit of Reform Judaism in an essay she wrote entitled, “How I Became a Reform Jew,” as she recounts her experience at the recent URJ Biennial Convention in San Diego:
Simply put, I had no idea how extraordinary Reform Judaism was. The tikkun olam mandate is so strongly bound up with the movement, and in the most joyous of ways. I was overwhelmed by the music, by the davening (prayer) and yes, my Orthodox friends, by the ever-present light of Torah. To give you an idea of the stellar caliber of Reform Judaism, here is a link to a keynote address given by Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the URJ president.
In his passionate talk, Rabbi Jacobs spoke about the commitment to a path of progressive change, to inclusivity, social justice, nurturing the next generation, egalitarian values and spiritual relationship to all that the Torah stands for. Standing among 4,999 other delegates, I almost couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
2) Learn something new – some new piece of Jewish text, some new part of a lifecycle event or something new about a Jewish ritual. The more you know, the more you’ll feel like a confident, competent part of the community. Explore your heritage, discuss it and debate it.
Here in New York, even if you aren’t affiliated with a congregation, you have literally thousands of opportunities to learn something Jewish. Visit a museum, take a class at the JCC or at the 92nd St. Y, read a book, see a movie. There are so many things to learn, people to learn from and places to see.
3) Try a new ritual. You might decide that you don’t like it, or that it isn’t meaningful to you, but you will have experimented and expanded your own Jewish identity. You will have made an informed choice about your own Jewish life.
Reform Judaism’s most enduring “mantra,” if you will, is one of informed choice. All too often, I hear people say, “I’m Reform, so I don’t actually have to do anything.” Or I hear, “This is a Reform congregation, so we don’t have to observe that ritual.” This is one of the greatest falsehoods, and it is important that we work together to educate each other about this.
In Reform Judaism, we all have the responsibility to learn the traditions, to study the rituals and then to make our own decisions about what is meaningful to us. Therefore, many Reform Jews choose to keep kosher. Many Reform Jews choose to wear tallitot or don Tefillin when they pray in the morning. Many Reform Jews choose to study Torah or Talmud every day. Many Reform Jews choose to observe Shabbat every week. We must all be respectful of their choices, even if we’ve chosen something else. It is not enough to just choose ignorance or default to the easiest option – we must learn, study, and educate ourselves, and then make the choice that resonates most for ourselves.
4) Take on a new act of social justice – write a letter to a politician about an issue that is important to you. Participate in a charity walk-a-thon for a cause that matters to you. Donate money or items to support those who are less fortunate.
We all are responsible for making this world a better place. Tikkun Olam, repairing the brokenness in the world, is a mandate for every single one of us. Reform Jews don’t passively wait for the Messiah to come and fix this all for us; rather, we start changing the world right now.
I wish you all a good and healthy 2014. I hope you’ll share with me what’s on your resolutions list!
Rabbi Marci Bellows is a spiritual leader at Temple B'nai Torah community in Wantagh, Long Island. A native of Skokie, IL., she earned a B.A. in Psychology from Brandeis University and a Masters in Hebrew Literature in 2003 from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. She was ordained in 2004.