For some Jews, the idea of celebrating New Year’s on December 31 makes them feel uncomfortable. They see the holiday as part of secular tradition and therefore not “Jewish.” Some choose not to participate because they see it as a betrayal of Jewish tradition.
Why is commemorating an American custom viewed so suspiciously? Are we afraid that it will somehow make Jewish traditions seem less compelling, or are we so obsessed with our own uniqueness that we fail to see our connection to the wider world?
If our purpose is just to be different, then it’s not worth it.
In Jewish life every day, every week, and at many other times, we are given the chance to begin again. To integrate another celebration is very much in keeping with our tradition.
In daily morning prayers, Jews thank God for renewing the world. Every Shabbat we recall the first moment of creation, and by doing so, give ourselves the chance to start over. At Rosh Hashanah, Jews everywhere celebrate the birthday of the world, and even in the Mishna, the code of law, we recognize multiple Rosh Hashanahs (New Year’s), so to commemorate an additional one is not foreign to Jewish practice.
Most traditional religious groups have shied away from celebrating at New Year’s, so the celebrations have no wisdom to guide them. Those that have offered guidance often have done so in a manner that feels defensive. But if we can find a way to use our traditions to help bridge the divide, we can create richer, more meaningful ways to live.
Excerpted from My Jewish Learning.