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Happy New Year 2024 from Have Faith Haiti

01/02/2024 11:07:12 AM

Jan2

Rabbi Steven Lindemann

Everyone has a ritual for celebrating New Year’s Eve: dinner and a movie, getting together with friends for a toast, and watching the ball drop at Times’ Square. This is my second New Year’s Eve at Have Faith Haiti Orphanage, so I know what to expect. It begins with a pizza dinner. I sat with Rosemika. She really enjoyed the pizza, but she liked the ice cream and cake dessert even more. The older kids were into it as well.

Then it’s on to my favorite part of the evening. Every child lights a sparkler and makes a wish. Many, I am sure wish for some toy or piece of clothing, but I wonder how many of their wishes are for family - parents or siblings they have lost, or perhaps haven’t seen for far too long. Some probably wish for an end to the gang violence that makes it impossible for them to leave the Orphanage compound. The older kids remember a time when they could go to the beach or the mountains. They haven’t been able to do that for 4 years now. The wishes are all secret, so I won’t tell you mine.

Djunie-Anna and Widley just started college in the U.S. They have had to learn how to manage their lives on their own. Nobody wakes them up for breakfast or class. They have to decide what to eat and when, how much to study, which electives to take, and what to do with their free time. The college culture is very different from the more protective environment of Have Faith Haiti. I wonder how their wishes may have changed from past years. The rituals continue tomorrow, on New Year’s Day. Mitch will open an envelope containing all of the resolutions the kids wrote on the first day of 2023, and they will have a chance to see how well they have done at making those resolutions a reality. Then, new resolutions will be made and sealed up for 2024. How have you been doing on any of the promises and vows you made on Rosh Hashanah? That was only a couple of months ago, so there’s still time. We all know the frequently cited poem by Robert Frost: “Promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.” He was once asked which promises he had in mind, and he responded: “Promises to myself and promises to my ancestors.” I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. Just a couple of weeks ago, I was part of a Rabbinical Assembly Mission to Israel. That was clearly about promises to our ancestors. Now, I’m here at Have Faith Haiti. When I was here, last New Year’s Day, I promised myself that I would do my best to be back here to start 2024. But that is also a promise grounded in the teaching of our people. A passage of Pirke Avot is as familiar to us as the Frost poem. “Im Ein Ani Li Mi Li—If I am not for myself, who will be for me; Ukh-SheAni L’Atzmi Meh Ani—But if I am only for myself, what am I?” The last line of that teaching is also very timely: “Im Lo Akhshav EiMatai—If not now, when.” New Year’s Day 2024 seems like a good time to reflect on all of this. One last reflection. Tomorrow, at evening devotions, I will teach them that at Rosh Hashanah, Jewish people do not say “Happy New Year.” We say “Shanah Tovah—Have a Good Year.” That’s more than a wish; it’s about fulfilling promises we make to ourselves and to our people. And, of course, promises to God.


May we all have a good 2024.

Sun, July 14 2024 8 Tammuz 5784