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Rosh Hashanah in Yogyakarta

It’s always difficult celebrating a holiday in a new place, far from the comforts of home, the embraces of loved ones, and the familiarity of routine. So often, thinking, “If I were home right now, I would be…” breeds homesickness. Or being away makes one feel so detached, they don’t even remember said holiday is occurring until someone else brings it up. Personally, during the few times I attempted to join Jewish community outside the USA during the High Holy Days, I was painfully rejected and dismissed.

Right now, we are amidst the Days of Awe – a ten day period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (the holiest days in Judaism). This time is marked by introspection and reflection; atonement and reconciliation; and intention-setting for the upcoming year.

Last week, two students and I struggled with how we wanted to acknowledge the holiday when we were so far from home. Since there isn’t exactly an abundance of Jewish culture or resources in Jogja, I purchased some simple items: candles, apples, and honey. Though we couldn’t participate in a formal service or be present in our respective familiar communities; don’t consider ourselves particularly observant but rather more spiritual and cultural; and still wanted to participate fully in our group’s itinerary, we felt it important to mark the moment. On Monday evening, we gathered our Dragons community of 15 and talked a bit about traditional foods and their symbolism. Apples and honey, marking a sweet beginning. Pomegranates, whose seeds represent the good deeds you will do in the upcoming year. Round challah (bread), depicting the roundness of a calendar year. And more. Then, we encouraged the group to think beyond Judaism and apply the messages of Rosh Hashanah to themselves, here in Indonesia.

For so many of us, myself included, being in Indonesia is a new beginning. A new chapter of life that requires a lot of thought, reflection, and intention. How do we want to show up? What version of ourselves do we want to bring forward, and what version of ourselves do we wish to leave behind? What relationships do we want to cultivate, and which do we want to wish farewell? How will we intentionally and respectfully seek to understand the cultures, communities, and histories of the people we encounter? How will we examine our own sense of self, and identities within greater society? Will we forgive and reconcile, both with others and with ourselves? How do we both forgive ourselves for our mistakes and also atone and reconcile our past misgivings?

Personally, one of my intentions is to absorb everything around me. To notice things that may be mundane at first — like clothes people wear, colors of motorbikes they drive, mannerisms they possess, spices they have on their kitchen racks, batik patterns on their floor cushions — but truly tell a nuanced story of their lives. Just like our students, this is my first time exploring Indonesia. It’s both exhilarating and daunting – thrilling because I can learn alongside our students. Intimidating because I don’t have close to all of the answers or even a sense of familiarity — with this culture, language, program schedule, you name it! — yet my students expect me to be an expert. While I’m here, I hope I come across as humble, kind, inquisitive. I aim to release the resentment, grudges, and disappointment I feel regarding some situations and relationships “back home” in my life away from Dragons that deter from me being fully present here. I hope to build connections with my students, my co-instructors, and members of our host communities that endure beyond the next three months.

One of the main reasons I love working for Dragons is because it feels like we are doing this work every single day. Holiday or not. I sought out this work because every day, I am simultaneously an educator and student; I am simultaneously supported and a supporter of others. Yet so often, I get caught in the daily (and important!) grind of moving the group from point A to B, ensuring the medical kits are stocked, reminding students to use insect repellant and sunscreen, etc. that I forget to breathe and recenter myself. I am grateful that this Rosh Hashanah, surrounded by 12 wonderful students and two incredible co-instructors, I was able to do just that. Breathe. Recenter. Be kind, gentle, forgiving, and empathetic towards myself and others. Repeat.