I am writing these thoughts on the last day of 2017. With the new year almost here, many people (including myself) indulge in retrospection and reevaluating some of their life’s choices.
Thinking back, I am supremely grateful for many highlights in my work and personal life in the past year. I’ve been privileged to bring joy and comfort to my patients and their families and care givers through music therapy and spiritual support through my hospice chaplaincy work. It has been enormously gratifying to help set Beth Judah Temple in Wildwood on a path of growth and thriving. The opportunity to innovate in the worship services, to meaningfully teach and learn with highly engaged congregants during Torah study, and to build community through the cultural Fellowship programs at community members’ homes have been exhilarating, leading to new friendships, new understandings and a growing congregation. Outdoor summer musical Sabbath services, including Kabbalat Shabbat services on the beach in Cape May and Wildwood and lighting the hanukkiah on the mall in Cape May have fulfilled my dream of reaching out to the broader community and strengthening the Jewish presence of the community. I have been touched and inspired by the courage and mutual sustenance for each other by members of The Kaddish Club that I started at Temple Sholom in Bridgewater a few years ago, that continues to be a powerful support system for those who have lost loved ones. I have loved seeing the smiles and excitement in students’, parents’ and teachers’ eyes when my co-author Karen Rostoker-Gruber and I performed our magical musical educational Hanukkah program, based on our children’s book Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match at synagogues and JCCs. On a personal note, I’ve been blessed to share many new experiences with my grandchildren – including playing pinball games at my grandson’s birthday party, visiting the Crayola Factory together, and facing the challenges of an Escape room with them. I am also thrilled to announce the newest addition to our family—our grand dog Piper, who I can hardly wait to meet when we visit in Chicago in the spring.
And I am looking forward to 2018 with great excitement and anticipation. In the coming months I will be bringing programs about my newly released book Let’s Eat: Jewish Food and Faith to even more synagogues and JCCs. I am thrilled and extremely honored to have been invited to teach a graduate course to ministerial students at Drew University’s Theological Seminary.
In addition to reminiscing and taking stock of accomplishments at the end of a year, the New Year brings an opportunity to reflect on “unfinished business” – the things we want to change or start in the new year. To spark the process for myself, I checked out some resolutions that others have shared. Here are a few that resonated with me, in no particular order:
- Be present! Make eye contact with people as you speak to them and really listen.
- Don’t pull your phone out every time you’re bored! Give your mind time to wander and wonder.
- Spend less time on social media and more on in-person connection.
- Try new things! Set some new goals for yourself.
- Exercise more and take more walks if you are able.
- Eat more salad and other healthy foods.
- Get more quality sleep.
- Find a weekly activity that will help to make a difference in someone else’s life.
- Be more compassionate.
- Stop procrastinating.
- Meet new people and make some new friends.
- Be more polite.
- Learn and commit yourself to civil discourse.
- Volunteer and be more charitable.
- Spend more time out of doors.
- Find time each week to meditate.
- Learn some new skills.
- Bring more peace into your life by practicing non judgment.
- Stay positive and open your mind to new possibilities
- Remember each day that it’s never too late to repair what is broken.
- Say thank you 10 times each day. Keep a journal and each evening write down several things for which you are grateful.
Unfortunately, all of us know how hard it is to keep New Years resolutions. As an article in today’s New York Times reminds us:
New Year’s Eve is a time to set goals: to eat better, to save more money, to work harder, to drink less. It’s Day 1 on the road to a “new you.” But this road, as we all know, is difficult to follow. Humans are notoriously bad at resisting temptation, especially (as research confirms) if we are busy, tired or stressed. By January 8 some 25% of resolutions have fallen by the wayside. And by the time the year ends, fewer than 10 percent have been fully kept. (The New York Times, Sunday, December 31, 2017)
However, the article goes on to suggest some tips for how we can keep our resolutions:
Cultivating the social emotions maximizes both our “resume virtues” (those that underlie professional success) and our “eulogy virtues” (those for which we want to be remembered. In nudging the mind to be more patient and more selfless, they benefit everyone whom our decisions impact, including our own future selves. In short, they give us not only grit but also grace.
So as 2018 commences, take more time to cultivate those emotions. Reflect on what you’re grateful to have been given. Allow your mind to step into the shoes of those in need and feel for them. Take pride in the small achievements on the path to your goals. Doing so will help ensure that every future New Year’s Eve will have more to celebrate than regret.
In Judaism, the number 18 has special meaning. Each Hebrew letter has a numerical value, and the numerical value of “life” (chai) is 18. Wishing you a New Year of 2018 (20-chai) that will be filled with light, joy, health, peace and meaningful change in your life! And thank you for reading my Thoughts and sharing them with others.