L’Shanah Tovah (For a Good Year)

Sunset in San Diego

Tomorrow is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, marking the day when ancient Jews believed that God created man in his imperfect perfection. It is supposed to be a time of reflection, a time to come to terms with strengths and weaknesses. It is a time to recognize and come to terms with our mistakes and our successes. In a sense, it is the day to come to terms with reality; such that I can do better next year and to set goals for ourselves to right the wrongs and create a new and better reality.

In spite of making ourselves better, we cannot escape making mistakes because as we rise over past mistakes, the new challenges are greater and tougher and we will make mistakes until we overcome them which is when we will meet even greater challenges and make even greater mistakes that will make past mistakes and challenges feel small by comparison, like a surfer battling and seeking ever larger and more powerful waves. However, as we meet the small challenges in our daily lives, by having become older and wiser and better, we will no longer see them as challenges, we may not even notice them as we easily glide over them. This can often be easily seen in settings like classes, where a professor who has seen a problem many times before may consider a problem easy and trivial for him or her that the students, having never encountered the problem, will consider difficult if not impossible. However, with enough effort, steadfastness and encouragement, nothing is impossible and soon, even the toughest challenges, like the passing years will loose their seeming difficulty and our new challenges will take the place of the old fears which we shall quickly forget or rarely remember.

And so this year, I hope to use the failings of last year as a reminder of things to be better at, to use successes of the past year as reminders of how work does have a payoff and that sometimes effort does not bring obvious success, but one is nevertheless better and next time the challenge appears, we do better at it.

  Last year, at this time, I was at the tip of the world, in South Africa, defying the laws of the communities by taking pictures and video inside synagogues for the sake of the project and suffering the consequences: being kicked out and nearly arrested. At the same time, doing so led me on a drive across South Africa to find a tribe of Jews who had learned to live among people as different from themselves as the people who lived around the Jews before Christianity and Islam in Israel.
A year ago, I did not know what love was, truly. Having felt what it is like to realize what it is like to say good bye to a piece of you, to see a human being and to know that it is growing and changing in ways that are too fast to stop, where every minute counts, every second is a chance for a smile and every cry is precious as it is a reminder to spend a little more time.. and there is nothing you can do besides slow down and do your best to remember every instant.
    Time, nothing more precious than time. Every day we weigh the pros and cons of living a full life that risk having a short life: eating meat, smoking, experiencing flight or speed, plunging into the unknown versus taking care of safety and loosing the experiences that make us feel alive. When I see old men or women, I wonder their secret at staying alive for so long, after seeing so much, after so many possibilities for death to take them from this world; from disease and accident to war. I wonder of how some of them held on to possessions to increase their wealth and some are just glad to keep traveling on this giant spaceship that we call earth.

This year I learned that the one thing that is most important for happiness is appreciation for that is what keeps us happy to be alive, happy for for the friends and family we have, not the friends and family we want to have, for the jobs we have and not the ones we’d rather have and for the health we have and not the health we’d prefer to have.

At the same time, while appreciation helps us be happy, equally important are the dreams that keep us forging ahead, they are what truly make us live for they keep us awake at night and looking forward to the morning. Like appreciation, that one must constantly work to remind oneself through prayers or meditation and lists, so do dreams require constant vigilant reminders from us and our mentors lest one looses them in the orderliness of everyday life and looses the essence and the nectar of life. For life isn’t about every breath we take, but like a good story, life is about the mystery, the wonder and the worry of will you be able to see that dream. And that dream can be of your success or the success of others and so long as you have a dream, it keeps us going and it keeps us living and appreciating the progress and the mistakes that bring us to the success and that is what keeps us happy even if we don’t reach that dream.

So this Rosh Hashanah, I am thankful that I was able to complete the travels I had dreamed of seven years ago, I am happy for the people in my life and for all the positive they had brought me and I had been able to bring them.

The worries and disappointments that I brought to myself and those around me, I am truly sorry for and because of them, I will be better tomorrow and I will keep those disappointments in my memory and close to my heart and think of them as often if not more often than you so that I do my best to not repeat them.

I will forgive my weaknesses for without them, I cannot grow stronger and I will use the strength to overcome greater challenges and help others with my strength and wisdom to overcome theirs.

The challenges faced by those before us have been great and in the coming years, we will face our share as well. Through introspection and understanding of our real selves, not those we choose to show the world, we will be able to meet them and with enough faith, effort and friends, we shall meet and overcome them, for we always have.

L’Shana Tova or Happy New Year,

Sam Litvin

Bellow are some pictures from Taschlich at La Jolla Shores.

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