September 28, 2011
Rush, rush, rush. Husband has a new job. I have a new job. Our toddler goes to day-care three instead of two days a week. To top it all off, the High Holy Days are upon us.
I’m trying, really, really trying to get into a High Holy Day state of mind.
Rosh Hashanah was not an automatic day off at either mine or my husband’s workplaces. He began his new job less than two weeks ago. I started mine, a part-time teaching gig, three weeks ago. To ask or not to ask? We asked and received the day off. A colleague offered to teach my class. My husband used one of his personal days. Problem solved. But how to then bring the spirit of the High Holy Days into our still frenetic lives? Maybe the answer is to just let it happen.
I did not plan to sing with my temple chorus this year. I had a commitment to play tennis one of the rehearsal nights and was preoccupied with planning the new writing class I was teaching. But an arm issue forced me to drop out of the tennis league. Then some chorus members beseeched me to consider singing because so few sopranos were singing this year. I did want to sing. My husband, a bass, was singing, but basses were more plentiful. He suggested I go in his stead to the final rehearsals. Then he added another idea: Why don’t I, instead of he, sing in the Selihot Service? He suggested that the same night as the one and only Selihot chorus rehearsal. I was tired but intrigued. I had little idea of what Selihot even was.
So last Saturday night, from 10 p.m. to nearly 11:30 p.m., I attended and participated in my first Selihot service. My immersion experience quickly taught me that Selihot was a sampling of what happens during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services. We sang Avini Malkeinu, asking God to hear our prayers, acknowledging that we had sinned in some way, asking for “blessing in the book of life,” asking for a good year. We recited and sang prayers of forgiveness.
I began sliding out of overdrive and into reflection as we read a poem by poet Yehuda Amichai, “Before.” It seemed to center on what life could be before mistakes are made. This passage, translated from the Hebrew into English by Stephen Mitchell, stuck with me:
Before the weeds fill the gardens,
Before there are no pardons,
Before the concrete hardens.
Ah, I thought, let life slow and allow for reflection – before, before it was too late.
Now, it’s several days later. I’m still torn between two worlds – my Jewish and secular one. I could be grading papers now, but I’m drawn to think about Erev Rosh Hashanah, just hours away. Before my son went down for his nap, he wanted a book. We had talked about Rosh Hashanah while grocery shopping, and he wanted a book on that. I looked in his collection of Jewish-themed books and found one I didn’t know we had: Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride by Deborah Bodin Cohen and illustrated by Shahar Kober. It’s a cute story about how a train engineer delivers Rosh Hashanah treats – apples, honey, even shofars – to Jerusalem. It’s also a story about repentance because the engineer brags to his friends that he, after all, was the one chosen for this task.
Simon repeated phrases after me, like “teshuvah,” and “Shanah Tovah, Happy New Year!” He’s too young still to understand what the High Holy Days are about. Then again, I’m still figuring it all out. Regardless, I’m glad he is getting a sense that at least this is a special time in our home. A few weeks ago, my husband pulled out his shofar and blew it around the house. Maybe that was the first hint: High Holy Days would not pass by unnoticed in our home.
Despite my lack of planning, our dinner table tonight will have at least a flavor of the holidays. I bought a round raisin challah from a favorite bakery. (Some year, I hope, I will make the challah myself.) I pulled out our decorative apples and honey plate and bought ingredients for a roast chicken. And, I splurged on a sweet treat – a chocolate-covered strawberry for each of us. Maybe I’m no longer trying to get into a High Holy Day state of mind. Maybe I’m there. L’shana tova.