Thoughts on 2016, Life, Death, God, and Everything…



Tough year.

And, apparently it's even going to be just a bit longer than usual.

Today, just a few days before New Year’s Eve, I’m struck by the tone of the messages I’m seeing on social media.

“Go to HELL, 2016!” seems to be a consistent sentiment this afternoon. We certainly lost lots of folks this past year. Like so many, I adored Prince, George Michael, Leonard Cohen, Glen Frey, George Martin, David Bowie…

We use these annual trips around the sun to mark our journeys, like pencil lines on an old wall that measure our children’s growth in inches (or centimeters, if you’ve an affinity for the Europeans). Such small, little units of demarcation…

As our secular year winds down, we become readily aware of our upcoming transition. We make our resolutions and plan for the future, determined to lose weight, to read more, to give more charity, to refocus our attention on what really matters... and we pause to remember those who no longer join us on the journey.

I am a Jew, and I am a global citizen. Perhaps you are as well. This NYE, I‘m going to try to find connective lines between the secular and spiritual New Year holidays, to bring some of the internal clarity I experience during Rosh Hashana into my communal / secular New Year’s Eve experience, and to infuse my next celebration of Rosh Hashana with a revitalized focus on the well-being of the global community, particularly through a commitment to social action and communal engagement.

Jews have a unique situation to navigate in this case. New Year’s Eve isn't our only new year's holiday (or, in my experience, even our most important one). The differences between Rosh Hashana (the “Head of the Year”) and New Year’s Eve are plentiful. Nonetheless, the similarities and connections between the two are striking.

I spend each Rosh Hashana on the bima at the 92nd St. Y in NYC, where I provide the music and liturgical chanting for the congregation. I‘m fortunate that my clergy partner for the holidays is Rabbi Elka Abrahamson. Rabbi Abrahamson is wise, calm, and experienced, and she brings tremendous depth and thought to our community of 100k+ worshippers around the world. She guides ourcongregation through the sounds of the shofar, its hallowing and deeply resonant tones pulling us toward our collective center.

This New Year’s Eve, I’ll celebrate at Madison Square Garden, enjoying the music of a favorite band, dancing, singing, and ringing in the secular new year with a different type of joy. In Saturday’s show, the role of the shofar will be played by an electric guitar, and my clergy for the evening will consist of four improvising musicians who very well might choose to play a 5/8 version of “Avinu Malkeinu" (if I’m lucky).

While NYE and Rosh Hashana do feel dissimilar in most respects, many of us seek strikingly similar things from these two holidays. We desire a line in the sand that we can cross, a division between past and future. We search for a clean slate, a concrete opportunity to cast off what has happened before, and to approach what lies ahead with clarity, purpose, and a sense of wholeness.

Perhaps, Rosh Hashana is our internal new year. Our hearts are subject to self-examination, and our internal compasses are adjusted. We grapple with who we have become, and many of us begin preparing to fast and atone on Yom Kippur.

Alternatively, December 31 provides us the chance to transition in a broad, ultra-communal way; it offers us the opportunity to cross a line along with the combined populace of the planet. Each hour, the new year arrives for a new slice of our world; each sixty minutes
brings a new start for a segment of our global community. We are, at that time, as close to Am Echad (one people) as we ever are.

Judaism is alive. It is living and changing and growing all the time. If you cannot see that, your eyes are not open. Closing ourselves off from the joy of the larger, world-wide community is no longer a viable path to global citizenship.

When midnight arrives on January 1, and the world reaches to pull itself close, we will be gifted a moment… our moment. Allow yourself a chance to pause, to breathe, and to be grateful.


For one night, most of this broken, agitated world will come together in joy and song and spirit.


And in the midst of that global gathering, we will know that we are One.


Bayom hahu (and on that day)…