Rabbi’s Column: A New Year for Life and Overcoming Fear

By: Rabbi Heather Miller

Happy New Year! How is this year different from all other years?

Somehow, in this new (secular) year of 2018, it seems appropriate to also say the Jewish New Year greeting “L’Shanah Tovah”— since 18 is such a Jewish number. Jewish numerology, known as gematriya, ascribes a number to every letter of the aleph-bet. To make 18, one adds 8 (the letter chet) and 10 (the letter yud). Chet plus yud spell the word “chai” meaning “life.” So, 18 became associated with the word “life” and all good things associated with it, like luck and good fortune. It is related to the phrase we say to toast special occasions: “L’chayim!”/“To Life!”

So in this new year of life with all of its potential for goodness, we consider the question: What does the one, beautiful and vibrant life you were meant to live look like? Are you on the path of living it? And if not, what do you need in the new year to make it so? After all, life is what we make it.

As we do this, we may recognize that we feel some things are holding us back from realizing our potential for the new year. What are those things? Is it a bad relationship? Or an addiction? Is it negative thoughts or behavior? Or simply living in denial? What are those things for you?

Life coach and motivational speaker, Adam Smith, says that for most people, fear is that thing holding us back. He says, “At some point— present or past— fear has torn us all away from some significant accomplishment or victory…You don’t have to keep running from fear. In fact, there’s a way to overcome and eradicate each and every fear you face.” 1 So, what are you afraid of? And how will you overcome it this year?

If we need inspirational examples of people whose self-liberation from fear resulted in living life to its fullest, we need only look to the book of Exodus. And fittingly, the first Torah portion of this year begins with the story of the Exodus.

This is the time when we, as a Jewish people, are recalling our history of bondage, and the story of how we found our liberation by overcoming our fears. In the story, fear is overcome by many of our ancestors:

-The midwives, who defy the edict to kill newly born Israelite baby boys, and instead help birth the new baby Moses,
-Miriam, who safely places Moses in the water to survival,
-Moses, who boldly stands up to Pharaoh, and demands that his people be let go to freedom, and
-The people who follow Moses out of Egypt into the unknown wilderness, eventually crossing the sea on dry land, and emerging into the safety of freedom.

Because our ancestors faced and overcome their fears, we are here today. Our people are people who have pushed ourselves to overcome fear, and that led them to lives that legends are made of. So, what do you need to be liberated from to enjoy a good new year, a more full new year?

The power is in our hands.

[1] Snyder, Benjamin. “The 10 biggest fears holding you back from success.” CNBC.com.

More Than Just A Game:
An Interview With The Creator of “Hello”

Many of us spend a lot of time looking for deep, meaningful connections in our lives. Rabbi Heather Miller, motivated by the principles of Relational Judaism and human connection, now offers us a chance to practice that with a beautiful game called “Hello.” Join her at BCC on Friday, January 19, at 7:45 pm (after our early Shabbat service), for an after shul special to learn this game.

Though Rabbi Heather often provides this game to couples engaged to be married to learn more about one another deeply, Hello can also be played communally to create and deepen bonds with other people. When you play, you’ll get to have a conversation about the things that are important to you, and you’ll get to hear about what is important to the people you care about.

Each player starts with a questions booklet, a pen, and an equal number of blue “thank you” chips. At any time during the game, if someone does or says something that you appreciate, you give them a chip. When a question is asked, you write your answer in your booklet. The most important rule is to listen as others share their answers. You can pass on any turn if you don’t want to share the answers you write down. At the end of the game, the winner is determined according to the number of chips.

We have reached out to Jethro Heiko, co-founder and CEO of Common Practice and the name behind the game, for some more info about Hello and for background on how this game came about.

Jethro originated the concept of the game after the untimely death of his beloved father, Lance, when Jethro was just 20. He had been part of many grief communities searching for ways to engage people in deep, meaningful conversations while they were still alive. And he realized that this is not just a game for those with a diagnosis. Thousands of players have realized that launching conversations of meaning with others through this game ultimately enriched their lives as it helped them clarify their own values and life goals, and taught them how to connect with others deeply on a regular basis.

He shares, “We knew from our own personal experiences caring for people with serious illness that the conversations we had with our loved ones were so helpful for those we loved, and helped us grieve those we lost.”

“Hospice nurses and other professional caregivers… could tell when a family has had conversations about living, dying, and what matters most and that they could provide better care more quickly to those families that had. We saw this as a challenge to solve: what can we create that would help every American family start these conversations and do so in a way that was joyful.” Jethro and his team at Common Practice have achieved this goal, but it didn’t happen overnight.

According to Jethro, thousands of people were engaged in the creation of the game over a very long time. “Therapists were certainly in the mix but not a prime focus-instead the focus was on regular people from many different backgrounds and abilities,” he says. “One of the great things about designing something with the community of people who will benefit from using it is that professional opinion matters but at the end of the day you are looking to create something that people will really use so you want to keep it simple, which is extremely hard and also rewarding.”

When asked who the game is ultimately for, Jethro describes, “Our real hope is that everyone plays our game and in doing so they make connections with others, deepen connections and understanding of their own values and goals. Being human is often hard and we see that people, when they play the game, feel a great sense of connection, are less anxious and more joyful. It’s a game so it only works if you choose to play it willingly, no one should feel forced to play our game, or any game. That said we really do hope everyone plays it and plays it often.”

For more information, see the post and video on the BCC website. If this sounds intriguing, please join us at BCC on January 19 at 7:45pm for our “Hello” after shul special, and bring your friends too!

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