A Renewal of Spirit

By Kristen Kersey

I Want to Be Somebody New! was one of my favorite childhood books. A leopard is unhappy with himself. He turns into an elephant, a giraffe, and a mouse, but his friends say they like him just as he was. By the end, he’s a leopard again, and we’ve learned a lesson about being ourselves… which isn’t easy if you don’t always like yourself.

Preparing for the Yamim Nora’im can be difficult for those who suffer from low self-esteem, anxiety, or depression. We reexamine old shames and embarrassments that we’ve never really stopped thinking about. We wonder how many people we’ve hurt through our carelessness and imperfection. We reopen deep wounds and ask God for healing, but wonder if we deserve it.

I was struggling around this time several years ago, and had the opportunity to visit the mikvah before Yom Kippur. Maybe, I hoped, immersing will make me feel like somebody new. The mikveh guide gave me a kavannah for my immersion that felt like a wake-up call: “Hashiveinu Adonai eilecha v’nashuva; chadeish yameinu k’kedem.” Bring us back to you, God, and we will return; renew our days as of old.

I didn’t need to become somebody new. I needed to honor myself for who I am: a human working through self-doubt; a convert to Judaism who is constantly humbled by what I still don’t know. And yet I am enough, I am loved, and so are you. As we move through this season of soul-searching, we don’t need to transform ourselves like a lump of coal becomes a diamond, through unrelenting pressure. We are all worthy and deserving of renewal.

About Kristen Kersey

Kristen is the Department Administrator for the Center of Prayer and Spirituality, and lives in a small shtetl town known as the Upper West Side. Her theater group gave her the “Anything You Can Sing, I Can Sing Louder” award in her junior year of high school, and she has attempted to live up to that title ever since.