July 14, 2024
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July 14, 2024
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Out With the Old, In With the New Year

As I write this, 2015 is in its death throes. In just a few days, I will be watching the ball drop, ushering out one year and bringing in the next. It doesn’t feel like the first day of 2015 was “just yesterday,” but it does feel like this year went by pretty fast.

The entire world went through a ton this past year, both for good and for bad. On a positive note, the U.S. and Cuba became closer, Pope Francis visited, high-quality photos of Pluto were shown, and—in a wonderful turn of events for the Jewish people—the imprisoned Jonathan Pollard was released. On a darker note, however, the world suffered from far too many terrorist attacks to count—the attacks in France both early and later in the year, the incitement in Israel that ramped up this past fall—and issues such as the escalating refugee crisis also came to the forefront.

(As did, for better or for worse, the 2016 presidential campaign, which got so much buzz that I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking that we had voted for a new president this past November.)

On a personal note, for me this has been a whirlwind of a year, both good and bad. It was the year when my journey from high school to college kicked into high gear, with a plethora of college visits and SAT tests and applications to fill. I also survived the rest of my junior year (the toughest of high school!), met people from around the world at BIMA this past summer, and did a ton of writing, including for this column. I also proved to the staff of The Jewish Link how great I am at deadlines. (That was sarcasm, sadly.)

But now, it’s time to look forward—the new year has arrived! We can celebrate and hope for a bright future! Right?

Not so fast. Didn’t we already have a New Year’s celebration, back in the fall?

For us in the Modern Orthodox world, there’s a conflict between this secular New Year’s and the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, in the fall. Can we truly celebrate both? Shouldn’t we assign more primacy to the Jewish New Year, as it is the time when God determines the fates of everyone and everything in the world? Perhaps we shouldn’t put so much emphasis on the secular New Year, when people determine how many televisions in America are tuned to the channel showing Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest.

My answer for that would be that we should regard the Jewish New Year as primary but that we can still celebrate the secular New Year. Rosh Hashanah is a solemn affair, where we pour our hearts out to God that we should all have a good year, and we need to give those days the proper respect and gravitas. However, we’re also connected to the outside world. Many of us befriend and work with non-Jews, and don’t shy away from appreciating secular art and entertainment, and so on. (I know I’m generalizing a bit here, but this is the impression I’ve gotten from the Modern Orthodox community in particular.)

At least how I see it, Modern Orthodoxy is about being engaged with those outside of the faith while still clinging to our beliefs and values within it. That’s why we care about what happens in the broader world; we don’t just focus in on what’s happening to us. Thus, when it comes to a secular celebration like the new year, I believe we can still enjoy and celebrate it because we are still a part of the world it comes from. (No, this is not a call to become rip-roaring drunk and uncontrollable on New Year’s, but I think it’s fine to party!)

When it comes to 2016 itself, I think we should all be hopeful. Yes, this past year was a roller coaster, and many issues from 2015—including the incitement in Israel and the refugee crisis—remain; we’re still going to have to grapple with those. But I’m hoping that the world will be able to solve many problems in 2016, and that as a community we can all keep moving forward. Looking at the two issues I raised: will they be resolved in 2016? Maybe a solution to the incitement will involve a peace deal between Israel and its enemies. Maybe a solution to the refugee crisis will involve agreements with Europe and the U.S. about how to take in more refugees? Right now, it’s impossible to say, but the new year is still young.

For me, 2016 will mark the end of one chapter of my life—high school—and the beginning of that next. Right now, I don’t know whether that will be a gap year or college, or what college/yeshiva I’ll end up at. But I’m thankful for everyone and everything that’s gotten me as far as I have so far, and I’m optimistic that no matter what 2016 holds, I’m going to remain as strong and positive as I can. I hope you all can as well.

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope your 2016 is filled with life, love and—if you’re in the same boat as me—college acceptances.

Oren Oppenheim, 18, is a senior at Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan and lives in Fair Lawn, NJ. He spends his free time writing and reading, and hopes to become a published novelist and a journalist. You can email him at [email protected] and see his photography at facebook.com/orenphotography.

By Oren Oppenheim

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