|January 1, 2011
Happy New Year!
By Dr. Ron Wolfson
Yes, we live in two cultures: Jewish and American. This gives us two chances each year to take stock of how we're doing in our lives. At the turn of the secular calendar, we celebrate - or damn - the year past and make New Year's resolutions. During the Yamim Noraim - the High Holy Days - we undertake a cheshbon ha-nefesh, a spiritual accounting of the soul. The question is: how well do we men do with both of these opportunities?
I made a New Year's resolution on January 1, 1993. I resolved to finally lose the huge amount of excess weight I had carried on my body since my youth. Attending Conservative Movement conventions at the old Concord Hotel in the Catskills, alav ha-shalom, was no help. Like a cruise on land, it was a fresser's delight. "Bring three kishkes for the table!" Oy! I bet I gained ten pounds at those meetings.
Now, I had probably lost and gained hundreds of pounds on every diet known to humankind - Weight Watchers three times, Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem, Optifast - you name it, I tried it. But, it took a respected mentor - and boss! - to stimulate my resolution. Rabbi David Lieber, z"l, then President of University of Judaism, tapped me on the shoulder one day and said: "Ronnie, I'm worried about your weight gain...and your health. We need you around here." I had ballooned to well over 300 pounds, I was 43 years old and in danger of losing my good health.
I took my resolution seriously, crafted an eating plan based on my many years of dieting, and began to shed the pounds. Men have a real metabolic advantage over women; I lost weight quickly. As a matter of fact, at the end of four months, I had lost 80 pounds! If you want to know how I did it, come to Convention in Los Angeles, and I'll tell you!
When I reached my goal weight of losing 100 pounds, I had to buy all new clothes. One of the first purchases was a new tuxedo to wear to the fancy tribute dinners I often attended. When I walked in, few people recognized me. When the crowd realized it was me, I started to get comments. "Look at Ron, he's half the man he used to be!" "You've lost a whole person!" But, the best was my wife Susie. She looked at me at the dinner table in my slim new tux and blurted out: "Oh my God, I feel like I'm sleeping with another man!"
FJMC made a resolution to help men confront their health issues. Under the leadership of my friend, Dr. Bob Braitman, FJMC's Wellness Program offers excellent materials for clubs to encourage us to do something about our physical health. How about a FJMC campaign to see which club can be the "biggest loser?" Think of this as a kind of tap on the shoulder from a friend, a bold but gentle reminder, like the tap David Lieber gave me.
Many secular New Year resolutions are about physical challenges. On the High Holy Days, we are confronted with spiritual challenges. How are we doing with our relationships - with others, with the community, with God? Are we taking the time to study? Are we making a difference in the lives of others? Have we found meaning and purpose in our work and volunteer activities?
Of all the holidays, my favorite is Yom Kippur. I know that may sound strange, but it's true. There is something about the day that is spiritually transformative...when you take seriously the call for cheshbon ha-nefesh, the spiritual accounting of the soul.
Yom Kippur is a rehearsal for the ultimate cheshbon we receive when we get to heaven. Over the centuries, rabbis have imagined that when we get to heaven, we will be asked questions about how we lived our lives on earth. I chose seven of these questions for my latest book - The Seven Questions You're Asked in Heaven: Reviewing and Renewing Your Life on Earth (Jewish Lights). Frankly, the questions are provocative, interesting, challenging. The first question, asked of Rava - a sage in the Talmud, is downright shocking: "Nasata v'natata b'emunah?" - "Were you honest in your business?" That's the first question you're asked when you get to heaven?!? Not, did you do mitzvot? Not, were you good to others? Not, did you leave the world a better place than you found it? The question is not just about how you conduct your business. It's about integrity, trust, faith.
It's also about being honest with yourself. So, look into a full-length mirror at the beginning of 2011, and let's resolve to lose some weight and get healthy.
This week's commentary was written by
Dr. Ron Wolfson, Fingerhut Professor of Education at American Jewish University, Co-President, Synagogue 3000, and the author of the FJMC sponsored "Art of Jewish Living" series of books (Jewish Lights). His latest books are The Sprituality of Welcoming, God's To-Do List, and The Seven Questions You're Asked in Heaven (all Jewish Lights). Ron@synagogue3000.org
The opinions expressed in this Unraveller are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the FJMC.
This week, Masorti congregations around the globe have registered for the World Wide Wrap including congregations in Chile, Australia, Germany and Sweden. If you, dear reader, are a member of a Masorti/Conservative congregation make certain that your congreation participate and is registered. Last year fifty sets of tefillin were donated by participaing congregations and distributed to Masorti congregations in Europe, Latin America, the FSU and Israel. We encourage you to assist us in the great mitzvah. Click here to register your Wrap.