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Happy new year!

Six ways to usher in the new year

Rosh Hashanah -- literally "the head of the year;" colloquially, the Jewish New Year -- is approaching! Wednesday evening at sundown we'll say farewell to 5771 and we'll welcome in 5772.

A few years ago I posted a set of Rosh Hashanah resources: sermons, explanations of liturgy, podcasts, you name it, all intended to help farflung readers enhance their experience of this special festival day. This year I'd like to offer something different: a set of six ways you can observe Rosh Hashanah even if you won't be coming anywhere near a shul (though I hasten to add, you can use these even if you will be spending all day davening in community, too!)

Six Ways to Usher In the New Year

1. Eat apples with honey or challah with honey -- or, really, anything you enjoy, with honey on top! This is one of my favorite tastes of the new year season...and some traditions hold that this taste should be savored from now until Shemini Atzeret (at the end of Sukkot), so you have some time to enjoy this one.

2. Jewish tradition holds that today is the birthday of the world. Stick a candle in a cupcake if you're so inclined; go outdoors if you're so inclined; wish the world happy birthday, and take some time to be grateful for the corner of the world in which you live, wherever that may be.

3. Eat a favorite food you haven't tasted since last year (a fruit that's newly in-season where you are? a favorite family recipe? something seasonal and delicious? personally I've been wanting to try the pumpkin ice cream at Whitney's Farm, though I'm not sure I'm going to manage it this week) and say the shehecheyanu, the blessing sanctifying time.

4. The Hebrew word shanah, year, can be understood as related to the word shinui, change; this festival offers us an invitation to usher in the change we want to see. Spend a little while thinking about your life, and identify one place where you want to change -- and begin that change today, right now.

5. Hear the shofar -- either in person, or on YouTube. Rambam -- aka Maimonides -- heard the calls of the shofar as saying, "Wake up you sleepers from your sleep, you slumberers from your slumber! Search your deeds and return in repentance!" (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Teshuvah 3:4.) The Baal Shem Tov heard, in the sounds of the shofar, a metaphor for the broken heart which brings us close to God. When you listen to the call of the shofar, what do you hear?

6. Go to a body of open water with some bread in your hand. Cast bits of bread into the water, each one representing one of the ways in which you've missed the mark in the last year. As you cast the bread upon the waters, you might choose to use one of these contemporary rituals, or to read the traditional text from Micah (learn more here), or just to enjoy your own silent contemplation and the rush of the waters washing the old year away.

No matter what your holiday practices may or may not be, I wish you a good and sweet 5772! May we all be blessed with prosperity, good fortune, and companionship in the new year to come.