Jews are in the midst of a period known as the Days of Awe, which began on Sunday night with Rosh Hashanah and culminates next Wednesday with Yom Kippur. It seems almost a misnomer to call them “holidays,” though the first marks the Jewish New Year. Rather, they are deeply personal events whose aim is self-reflection, self-improvement and repairing what is broken in daily relationships.
It’s striking how much this most important period on the Jewish calendar shares with that most essential exercise in American democracy. Walt Whitman wrote in the late 1800s that “a well-contested American national election” was “the triumphant result of faith in human kind.” This country’s unique sense of optimism””the view that the future is unwritten and full of possibility, that anything can be achieved””is also the sensibility underpinning the Days of Awe.
On a cosmic level, Rosh Hashanah commemorates the birth of the world. On an individual level, it marks the rebirth of the soul as Jews examine their faults and ask forgiveness from those they have wronged. At heart, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are deeply optimistic events.