Tag Archives: New Year

The Return of the Pop Elul Project

As the Hebrew month of Elul begins, look out for the return of the Pop Elul Project. Throughout the month, blog posts on thPopElule Pop Elul Project help us find meaning in the themes of the High Holy Days.

Each daily Blog Post focuses on a piece of Pop Culture (Movies, Television, Music, Books, etc.) and connects that which is “trendy” to the themes of the Days of Awe and the High Holy Day season.

The Pop Elul Project is an open forum for discussion and debate about God, Renewal, and Repentance with help from the music we love to listen to and the shows and movies we love to watch!

You can visit the blog at popelul.com and check it out for new and archived blog posts.

Wishing you a meaningful High Holy Day season!

-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

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New Year’s Resolutions Aren’t Just About Us

My family and I celebrated New Year’s Eve at South Orange/Maplewood’s First Night celebration and we had a blast! What stood out to me though was the table in the lobby of Columbia High School, encouraging those who passed by to write down their New Year’s resolutions for 2015. One would be selected at random and win an iPad. In hopes of winning a new iPad, I submitted 16 different New Year’s resolutions, none of which were to win an iPad.

As I looked through all the resolutions displayed in the lobby, I found them troubling. We shouldn’t have to wait until we turn the page on the calendar for us to start anew. After all, our liturgy allows us to start fresh every morning. We don’t need a New Year’s Day — on any calendar — for us to do that.

HappyNewYearWhat was troubling though was not the time of year in which we made these resolutions; it was the resolutions themselves. They were self-centered, including mine! We make resolutions focused on ourselves: to lose weight, to exercise more, to work harder, to study more, to lie less, to spend more time with family. These aren’t bad resolutions. These are the type of resolutions we should all strive to make, opportunities that set us on course to be a better version of ourselves. But if we are to truly make New Year’s resolutions, then we need to think of resolutions that have an impact on others.

Our resolutions for the year ahead must focus on our communities and our neighbors, they must focus on those that we too often neglect or don’t think about enough. They must focus on the challenges of our country and the challenges on the other side of the world. We may choose to ignore these challenges because they seem impossible to tackle, impossible for a simple resolution to make a difference. Yet, such a thought process has led us to ignoring what we truly need to address, those issues which need to be a part of our 2015: justice, poverty, equality, and peace.

Our resolutions must not focus on our own lives, but rather how do we want to leave this world for generations to come. So join me in my New Year’s resolution for 2015, striving to make this world a better place, not just for all of us, but for our children and their children as well.

– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

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The World Needs More Rebellious Children

Last Shabbat, we read the complicated obligation found in Parashat Ki Teitzei that instructs us to deal with a rebellious child accordingly. In Deuteronomy 21:18, we read:

Ki yiyeh l’ish ben Sorer u’moreh eineinu shome’ah b’kol uv’kol imo, v’yisru oto v’lo yishma aleihem… urgamuhu kol anshei iro va’avanim v’meit.

If a man has a Ben Sorer u’moreh –  a rebellious and defiant child – who does not listen to his parents and does not obey, they should bring him to the center of town and declare to the elders of the town, this son is insubordinate. Then the men of the town should stone him to death.

The Torah clearly states that if a child is rebellious, he should be killed. While the rabbis go out of their way to make sure this never happens, we have to deal with the problematic idea of a such a punishment being part of our scriptural core.

weCanChangeTheWorldHow do you describe a rebellious child? Is this someone who defies authority? Someone who cheats? Steals? Lies? Someone who does not respect elders? I believe that the redactors of the Torah were concerned with encouraging a new generation to rise up and question authority and leadership. Moses had dealt with an enter people question his leadership and God’s law, not to mention an attempt by Korach to overthrow him as leader. Prevent such rebellion is understandable. Yet, I think we miss the goal of rebellious teens. They questions authority because they search for deeper meaning. They question authority because they see injustice and refuse to continue to go about their everyday lives accepting what has become reality.

We deal with the struggle of rebellious children – or as most of us call them, teenagers – throughout our tradition. In fact, at the Passover Seder, in the Haggadah, we read about the four children. We are taught to reward the wise one, explain in modest terms to the simple child, and introduce the one who does not know how to ask to the customs and rituals of the holiday experience. But we chastise the wicked child, the rebellious child, the rasha. Yet, what is so rebellious about what this child asks?

The wicked child asks “What does this mean to you?” The parent is offended that the child says “to you” and not “to me or to us.” The child does not include himself or herself in the experience. But there is nothing rebellious about what the wicked child asks. There is nothing evil. The child is simply challenging the status quo, challenging authority, looking for deeper meaning, hoping to create impactful change. We teach our children to think, bit not what to think. So a child questioning the status quo, a child committed to changing society, is something that we should celebrate, not condemn.

A couple of years ago, Civil Rights Leader and Congressman John Lewis was given an honorary degree from the Jewish Theological Seminary at commencement. In his speech at JTS commencement upon receiving his honorary degree, Representative Lewis charged the students to get into trouble. He said:

“You must go out and find a way to get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble. You must play a role in helping to make our country, helping to make our world, a better place.”

During the Hebrew month of Elul, during these weeks leading up to the High Holy Days, we focus on what we can do in the year ahead to be better versions of ourselves. However, often, our reflection is self-introspection. We focus on our own shortcomings. We focus on our own action and inaction. We focus on what we do or don’t do, on how we can change. However, part of this month, leading up to Rosh Hashanah, which tradition refers to as the Birthday of the World, must be about more than just how we can change ourselves. It must be about how we can change the world.

It must be about how we can, as Representative Lewis said, get into a little bit of trouble, good trouble. It must be about how we can, every now and again be a ben sorer u’moreh. Maybe we are supposed to be the ben sorer u’moreh. Maybe we should act like the rasha who sought deeper meaning and change. Then, and only then, will we not only change ourselves in the year ahead, but also change the world.

– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

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