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KOLOT – Finding Meaning in Family

By Raz Newman


We all try to find it. It’s tricky, because meaning tends to hide itself in the most bizarre places sometimes.

Especially during the holidays. Wake up in the morning. Go to services. Recite old promises. Try hard. It is the holidays. Surely, you will find meaning there, between the lines of an old sacred book.

We are all frightened at the thought of doing something that lacks meaning. So we go to school, get straight A’s, go to a good school, and get a job with crazy hours. Make crazy money. But “something is missing.” So we leave our partners; we quit our jobs.

“It wasn’t meant to be”… “Everything happens for a reason.” We throw around sayings like that every time we fail or choose to give up.

I sat in a pew at The Emanuel Synagogue in West Hartford, davening on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. Rabbi Phillip Lazawoski gave a “drasha” in which he explained why we are all failures – and why it’s okay.

We all fell once. We all crashed. Some of the greatest leaders and artists were failures their entire lives. The secret is to never give up. It’s not your fault if you fell. It is, if you choose not to get up.

It is another High Holiday season that I will spend without my family. I have not celebrated Rosh Hashanah with them since I was 18 and a soldier in the Israeli army.

But this year I was lucky enough to be invited to share the holiday with a few families from our community. I spent the evening at the table with a group of people with whom I did not share any history; no shared experiences, no stories link us together. So I sat there quietly and listened.

The more I listened, the better I felt. We tend to run through life. After all, we are called the human race for a reason. But then, for one night – this night – we slow down. We become more humble. We take time to see one another. Almost like a holy presence. And what I learned most at all the tables I was invited to sit at this holiday season is that family is so important – and that we need to appreciate our families more; spend more time with them, pay more respect to them. Slow down, look around you. The people who are sitting at the table are the people who love you the most.

We forget what success really is. It is family. We try to find meaning in fancy cars and big houses, a big house. But what about the meaning that can be found in a sacred line that we recite every morning, or the meaning in a hug from our loved ones? All of these amazing families who invited me to spend the holiday with them already understood what’s important.

We don’t really need the holiday to be with our families, but it’s a nice reminder.

So, yes, we are all failures. But when I sat at the table with these families, I knew it wasn’t true. They were all winners, for they understood what’s important. When one understands that, one will never fail again.

I didn’t get to spend this Rosh Hashanah with my family from Israel, but I have found a new family here. And, while I was trying so hard to find meaning, I realized this: One does not find meaning, one creates meaning. We choose what is important.

Keep in touch with your loved ones. Not because it is that time of the year or because you’re feeling lonely. But just because. Tell them they are important and that they matter. This year, about 200 Israeli emissaries won’t be celebrating the holidays with their families. They will all tear up. I promise you that.

Be happy to see your family this holiday season. You may groan when you’re forced to listen to the same old stories time and again, you may wince when you find yourself completely covered with lipstick by a well-meaning aunt. But hey, that’s family.

Family comes first. Always. This is our core base. Our reason for existing. Thank you, host families, for letting me celebrate these days with your loved ones. You are truly blessed.

I have already found meaning – have you?

I wish you all a happy new year and a meaningful fast.

Shanah Tova,

Am Israel chai! 


Raz Newman is director of Israel Programs at the Mandell Jewish Community Center in West Hartford.

Readers are invited to submit original work on a topic of their choosing to Kolot. Submissions should be sent to


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