JANUARY 11, 2018 – There is something special about greeting a new year. It’s a chance to wipe the slate clean and start afresh. It’s a time to make resolutions that unfortunately we may break in just a short time. And, it’s a time to reflect on the past year and perhaps go back in memory to New Year’s Eves long ago, maybe to happier times.
You could probably say that we Jews are fortunate: We celebrate a new year not once, but twice. The difference is that the Jewish New Year celebration lasts longer than one night and day. It begins with Rosh Hashanah and ends with Yom Kippur at the close of 10 days of awe.
It’s a time to search our souls for forgiveness for some of the ways we may have inadvertently or even intentionally hurt someone. Let’s face it, we’ve had an entire year during which we might have transgressed and done things that, looking back, we’re not particularly proud of, and made some decisions that we regret. With prayer and fasting, we atone and hopefully achieve forgiveness. That, to me, is a much more serious time than the traditional celebration that marks the New Year on the Gregorian calendar.
This was the first New Year I was alone, but not really. I had my memories, some that made me laugh and others that gave me comfort. How fortunate are we to be able to recall memories, to bring back loved ones no longer here in person but in spirit. We can laugh at some things, smile at others, and even shed a tear or two; they are all our memories, they belong to us. In my mind, I went back to my teenage years, a time when most of my friends and I earned money babysitting. At 25 cents an hour, that meant a lot of babysitting to make a decent amount. Remember, those were the days before minimum wage and there was no time and half for sitting on New Year’s Eve. However, since it usually meant being at someone’s house for many hours, that babysitting job was a biggie.
I fondly recall one special family I sat for. He was a professor at Northeastern University, his wife and the two girls were absolutely lovely. (He was too, not lovely, but kind.) The little girls would insist on choosing a Hanukkah gift for me that they were thrilled to have picked out themselves.
Then there was the police officer on my street. He was the only Jewish cop I ever met in Irish Boston. Sometimes my 25 cents an hour was translated into movie passes for the local Morton Theatre. The only one really happy about that was my mother.
I could also tell you about the Harvard student who took me to the Ice Capades one New Year’s Eve. There was only one problem: He didn’t have a car. He came to Mattapan by the T all the way from Cambridge. Then we schlepped into North Station only to return by subway back to Mattapan, with another trip back to Cambridge for him. Needless to say, I wasn’t worth a repeat performance.
Of course, there were parties, sorority events, fraternity events, etc., but those were just meaningless ways to celebrate New Year’s. But all that changed when I met my future husband. We went on our first date in August, were engaged by New Year’s, and married that summer. And that’s when the meaningful memories began.
My husband never liked to be on the road that night and neither did our next-door neighbors. That’s when we launched the Chinese food tradition with dinner from Dave Wong’s China Sails. We continued that predictable celebration until we bought a small house on the Cape in Dennisport. Our two sons would insist they wanted to see the New Year in, so we usually started a marathon Monopoly game. The four of us sat around a small table with a fire going in the fireplace. When the boys finally gave up, they set the alarm for 11:45 p.m. so we could all greet the New Year together.
So, you see, I wasn’t really alone this year. I was surrounded by so much love and happiness that before I knew it, the ball was dropping on Times Square. It was the beginning of another year.