Building from within

Reflecting on the ways large and small that your own life has changed for the better this year.

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As a Midwestern Jew, to me, autumn has always represented new beginnings. A new school year, the changing leaves-crisp, and a little musky smelling-followed soon thereafter by the spiritual renewal of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The invitation to open to a new page, both on the calendar, and within oneself.

This year, autumn's arrival feels different. The universal sense of anticipation that typically accompanies the change in the air is diminished, if not absent. In many neighborhoods, there are no kiddos on their way to school toting new backpacks; few commuters hustling to catch the train clutching "this might be wine" coffee thermoses. They remain, like many of us, at home, transforming corners of their living rooms into classrooms and offices. Because of this, the words and numbers on our calendars seem to reflect a different passage of time than what we have psychologically experienced, making it hard to believe that the High Holidays are once again upon us.

I was lamenting to my friend-okay, my therapist-that the last several months felt like a waste in terms of personal growth. She had the good grace to affectionately laugh in my face so heartily that the audio on Skype buzzed, and pointed out that no time spent getting to know ourselves is ever wasted. "Why, look at some of the hobbies you picked up in quarantine," she prompted.

I glanced around the room-at the guitar I had just begun learning to play; down at the tie-dye t-shirt I was wearing that I made at a social-distance crafting party with my new neighbors; and at the loaf of bread cooling on the kitchen counter made with herbs from my new windowsill herb garden-and I realized she was right. The last several months had heralded loss, but they heralded gain as well-new friendships and practices and hobbies to carry with me into 5781.

Inspired, I asked some of the folks in my local Jewish network to share practices that they built in quarantine and likewise want to carry into the new Hebrew calendar year and into a post COVID-19 world. The replies I received were diverse and full of surprises, such as starting a virtual anti-racist book club, learning to play the ukulele and having outdoor concerts for friends and neighbors, joining a virtual morning minyan , daily lake swims and virtual fencing lessons, learning to build furniture and bake challah, establishing a regular Havdalah practice and phone-free Shabbats.

With these examples in mind, I encourage you to reflect on the ways large and small that your own life has changed for the better this year. I hope that, as we enter into this new year of possibility and unknowns, these practices bring you strength and happiness. May you find more such sources in the year to come.

Shanah Tovah !

Jenna Cohen is a development professional and freelance writer living in Chicago.   

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