For many students on campus, this week marks the first round of midterms. But for me, it’s the beginning of the new year. The holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, took place this past Sunday evening through Tuesday evening. A time for reflection on the past year, Rosh Hashanah always prompts me to re-examine not only my personal relationships, but also my hopes for the future. This year, I dream of making the world a better place.
The start of a new year is the perfect time for self-reflection and creating resolutions for the future. Whether it’s the Jewish new year, the Gregorian new year in January, the Chinese new year or the new school year, the celebration of the movement of time is an opportunity to evaluate oneself, one’s surroundings and how one wishes everything could be. Normally I focus on my relationships with my friends and family. Rarely, if ever, do I consider anything beyond myself and the people closest to me. This year at Rosh Hashanah religious services, that changed.
The Jewish concept of “tikkun olam” (meaning “world repair”) came up Sunday evening at Duke’s Freeman Center for Jewish Life. The phrase originates in medieval Jewish mysticism, but in modern times the phrase has evolved to encompass an obligation for social action. Essentially, to be a good person one ought to act to make the world better. Tikkun olam has always been something that I’ve connected with deeply, but this new year it seemed, well, new.
As I was sitting in religious services this week, I suddenly became aware of the magnitude of the chanting voices around me. These voices were not only the voices of strangers, but also an extension of me. At both the Duke Freeman Center and my own synagogue in Durham, I found myself broadening my sense of self to include these communities. I thought about what changes I want for the new year, not only for my own personal life, but also for the communities I’m part of. What changes I want for my two Jewish communities. What changes I want for the broader Duke community and for my hometown of Durham. And even for the state, the country and the world. How do I want this year to be different for all of us than last year?
This feeling of self-obligatory social action isn’t limited to members of the Jewish tradition. Whether one identifies as Christian, Muslim, atheist, liberal, conservative, scientist, athlete, artist or just plain human being, we all want to make things better in some way. We might disagree on certain issues, but easing pain and suffering is a pretty universal goal.
No matter who we are, there is some way we can contribute to repairing the world. There are a lot of things wrong and it can be overwhelming to think one personally has to change it. But if we all do one thing, there will be a heck of a lot more one-things done.
For my one thing, I decided on an issue that is not only of great intellectual importance to me, but also a huge world crisis. I won’t go into the details of the many levels of the environmental crisis here, but suffice it to say it’s something that has changed, is changing and will change the world. And not for the better. Unfortunately, a lot of damage is irreparable, but there are still things we can do. For me, I’ve started by limiting how many resources I use. It’s not a big step, but it’s something that I can successfully do daily while still participating in society. It is the small way I try daily to fulfill my vision of tikkun olam, repairing the world. I time my showers. I use the clamshell to-go containers from the Great Hall. I always carry bamboo cutlery with me, so that I don’t have to use disposable sets on campus.
I’m trying to repair the world; I’m trying to fulfill this self-obligation to make the world better. Maybe I don’t always put in 100 percent. But I can try every day, and so can you. Together we can repair the world.
Hannah Anderson-Baranger is a Trinity junior. Her column runs every other Thursday.