In just a short time, the sun will set on 5783, and we’ll welcome in the Jewish New Year.

The celebration of Rosh Hashanah isn’t intended as a passive experience. It doesn’t come quietly or gently. To the contrary, we’re meant to be blasted awake, roused from our current state of being by the plaintive, primitive cry of the shofar.

For proof, we need only look to the name of the holiday: The “Rosh” in Rosh Hashanah means “head” of the year, an odd word choice. There are other words in Hebrew that mean “start,” “beginning,” or “new,” but the holiday refers to the mind, the seat of cognition.

We’re supposed to think.

It’s no small undertaking. In a world that’s seen no end to earthquakes, wildfires, and war, in an era characterized by seemingly intractable political divides and dysfunction, we might understandably arrive at this moment numbed, despairing, or disengaged.

But the gift of Rosh Hashanah is the framework to pursue deep introspection both individually and communally. And the time to reflect on our own immense blessings — as well as the staggering needs of people living lives of desperation all around us, too often unseen or neglected.

My wife told me this week that she saw an elderly man in our neighborhood on the Upper West Side, clearly impoverished, picking up coins in the middle of the road on Broadway. He was oblivious to oncoming traffic, until she tugged him to safety. Growing numbers of children are selling candy on the subway to help support their families. And 50% of working-age households in New York City have incomes that can’t meet basic needs.

Wake up,” the shofar wails, so that we might ask: What can I do, and what can we do together, to create change? Am I capable of engaging with people different than myself, to find common ground for a greater purpose? How can I be an active participant in making the world as beautiful as it was in the very moment of creation?

UJA strives to give form and shape to these lofty aspirations every day. We’re the holiday meal delivered to the door of an impoverished Holocaust survivor, and the friendly call to say “Shanah tovah.” We’re a scholarship to Jewish summer camp for a Ukrainian refugee child and a path to employment for his mother. We’re a new life in Israel for an Ethiopian Jew, and the people who’ll never stop working for a vibrant Jewish and democratic homeland.

We do this work as a community year-round, finding renewal on our holiest days, as we welcome the new year and all its possibilities — with eyes wide open.

Wishing you and your families a year of good health, happiness, and peace.  

Shabbat shalom and Shanah tovah u’metukah