Lessons for Rosh Hashannah From My 6-Year-Old’s Swimming Lessons

A Rosh Hashannah greeting from our Executive Director, Karla Van Praag.  

Remember the breaststroke? Glide. Pull. Kick. Breathe. My six-year-old daughter learned it this summer. Well, sort of. She’s got all of the components down, but she keeps taking too quick a breath and she often forgets the glide. Popping up and down, she runs out of energy shortly after she begins. She pushes forward, but because she doesn’t pause to let the water carry her forward, she doesn’t get very far.

Like many of us working hard at something, she’s not remembering that moving forward toward a goal is only part of your effort – there’s something around us that we’re swimming or working in, something larger than us. For the swimmer, that’s water. For the believer, it’s something transcendent. For the organizer, it’s our community. If we recognize it, it can carry us as we glide forward.

That is why I’m looking forward to the Jewish holidays. At its best, the ritual of sitting together and reflecting on the past takes me out of my lists and my big aspirations and my constant pulling forward, into the recognition that I am part of some grander swirl.

This time of year many Jews ask ourselves, what can we do differently? When we look around us and see a world that is so broken, it’s easy to come up with a laundry list of the many things we will do in this new year. We will work harder and faster, we will face our discomfort and be more open to vulnerability, we will be better allies, neighbors, parents and friends. We tell ourselves: If only we could do it all, things would really change.

The beauty of this period of community reflection is the reminder that no amount of frantic energy swimming alone will get us where we want to be. Of course, this is what we teach in community organizing – that there is no power in being alone and change comes when we all rise up together. But sometimes we still forget this bigger lesson in our day-to-day, pulling forward with our own to-do lists.

And so, preparing for Rosh Hashanah, I humbly remember that although I must continue forward – and that what I am doing will never be enough – I am far from alone in my pulling. The same waves that are carrying me are carrying you, and carrying other people much different than me. When I remember that we are pulling together, this makes the glide longer, and I can muster the strength to pull and kick again.

May you and your loved ones be inscribed for a year filled with joy, health and peace.

Shana Tovah,


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