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Resource Category: High Holy Days

L’SHANAH TOVAH TIKATEIVU V’TEICHATEIMU

With last year in the rearview mirror, and (we hope) a brighter new year on the horizon, we can see the impact of mental health on our lives more and more. As the new year begins, let us reaffirm our commitment to mental health and wellness for both ourselves and our communities.

A conversation on mental health can bring forth powerful connections with the potential to save someone’s life. To help start people talking, we created these resources for individuals to reflect upon and improve their own mental health as well as to contribute to the mental wellness of the entire Jewish community as we look forward to a sweet new year.

Rosh Hashanah is a powerful and transformative holiday, from the inspirational and poetic prayers we recite to the powerful and incisive blast of the shofar. This experience, however, cannot be fully embraced in a safe and healthy way without preparation, and for that, we have the month of Elul preceding the High Holidays. We encourage you to take this month to fully embrace and engage with your past with courage. It is only by building better selves that we can build a better world.

Yom Kippurthe day of atonement, can be a challenging subject for a lot of people. For some, it is a chance to make resolutions, accept the past, and commit to a better future. But for those struggling with mental illness, this process of self-criticism and introspection can be devastating to their mental health. Therefore, we all must do our best to cultivate self-acceptance and, above all, self-forgiveness, in a healthy and collected manner.

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Imagine for a moment you live with depression. It is not a family member or loved one who has depression — you are the patient. You are suffering. You are in so much pain and your brain is so ill, you have thoughts of suicide. Next, consider the liturgy of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: We are commanded to “choose life.” Teshuva, Tefilla and Tzedakah, repentance, prayer and charity, are your ticket to the Book of Life for another year.
On Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on the fast of Yom Kippur, it is sealed. . . This piyyut (liturgical poetry), the Un’taneh Tokef, is perhaps the most famous of all the liturgy of the Yamim Nora’im/Days of Awe. It tells of how our fates for the coming year will be written in the Book of Life. That book, we are told, is opened during the High Holy Days, and we read it together with G-d. What is written? Our lives. We look back at pages we have embossed with our deeds and misdeeds, active and passive. And we ask G-d to help us write a better page next year. For G-d to help us cope with all the hardships and blessings that come our way: flood, famine, plague, restlessness. To write us for life, for a good life.
On Rosh Hashanah, it is a tradition to eat simanim, foods that are symbolic of blessings you would like in your life in the new year. Over time, different communities have added different foods to this list and given each one of them specific symbolism. Infuse your year with mental wellness with our mental health simanim!
During the High Holidays, as we consider the decisions we want to make for our future, we may be bogged down by the notion of committing to them. We may even feel paralyzed by the fear of making a wrong decision. But we need to accept that while we have the potential to make a wrong decision, we also have the power to make ones that lead us in the right direction.
On Yom Kippur we must recognize the Jewish approach to reflecting on wrongdoings and not despair. We try to hold onto hope and persevere, recognizing the only way forward is to keep moving. In life we dip or sway and even move backward at times, but as long as we are moving somewhere, we are on a path toward growth.