So, first off – L’Shanah Tovah tikatevu! May your New Year be sweet and bring good things into your life.
My prayer for these High Holy Days is simple: May peace rise up beneath us like a river, and may joy fall down upon us like the rain.
Someday, I may write a poem or a longer prayer based on that, but given the past year, peace and joy would be good things to have.
Now, I want to recap my first-ever Rosh Hashanah as a Jew (rather than as a hoping-to-be-a-Jew-someday).
Erev Rosh Hashanah
We had second-service (8 pm) tickets for Erev Rosh Hashanah, and even then it was a near thing, getting there on time. My shul is in a neighborhood, with street-only parking (we have no space for a parking garage or lot) and on the HHDs it’s always at a premium. In the evenings, when residents are home, it’s triple that premium. Add in that the drive is 15-20 minutes, that my husband was off work at 6:30 pm at about 40 minutes away, and that we would have to eat afterwards, not before, and you can see the stress levels. But we got there just as people from the first service were leaving, so we found a great spot about a block away when one group got in their car and left just as we pulled up. Score one for us, yay.
My husband was nervous about what he was wearing – he felt he wasn’t dressy enough – but I thought he looked fine. I mean, come on, there were people dressed like they were going to a business conference, sure, but there were also people in polo shirts and sundresses. My husband was in a button-down short-sleeve shirt and a pair of jeans with good shoes; he was middle-ground. I was wearing a faded pair of jeans (the only ones I own) with a t-shirt and a button-down, open, with the sleeves rolled up over that. I don’t think we actually stuck out.
I put on my tallit as soon as we got inside, and then I felt conspicuous. My tallit is mostly grey and a green which looks turquoise in some lights and emerald in others. In the light in the sanctuary it was on the more turquoise side. Most of the other people wearing tallitot were wearing the classic “white, with some blue stripes” style. It’s also a wide shawl-type tallit and I’m still not used to getting it settled on my shoulders, so until I did, it was a little awkward. But then I told myself sternly that nobody was judging me except me, and to cut it out. Which I did. Mostly.
We brought our gluten-free crown challah with us for the oneg, but we never found out what happened to it after we gave it to the kitchen staff before the service. It was supposed to be at the oneg afterwards, and it wasn’t, so I don’t know what happened there. I may ask to form a committee around making sure that people who have food allergies can still request, and get, at least some food at the oneg which they can actually eat.
My husband has a problem which our Yom Kippur is going to be addressing in one of the midday workshops: he tends to assume the worst of people – usually that they’re judging him or that they don’t like him. He was in a toxic social environment for a long, long time, and he’s still working on digging himself out from that. So I had to spend a few minutes reassuring him that no, people were not judging him, and to calm down, it was going to be okay.
We have a choir for our High Holy Days. I would have been part of it this year, but rehearsals were scheduled for the same time as our Intro to Hebrew classes, so I couldn’t be in both places at once. Our new cantor’s voice is amazing. She’s a coloratura soprano and she knows exactly how to use her voice to bring everyone to tears and joy.
Mostly, I experienced the service (reveling in the fact that, for the most part, I could at least follow along with the Hebrew!). Our rabbi’s sermon was about innovation and how we, as Jews, are always called upon to innovate. I’ll quote a few lines from his sermon here (I love that we have a livestream for our services):
“The Pharisees, the emergent rabbinic movement: as one of its early leaders, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai defied the self-destructive Zealots and negotiated with the Romans… He promoted a revolutionary new approach to Judaism. Torah – God’s instructions on how to live a holy life – was not limited to what had been written down in the Five Books of Moses. According to Yochanan ben Zakai and his fellow rabbis, Torah also consisted of generations of all teachings whose origins and authority stretched all the way back to the moment of revelation at Mount Sinai. Yochanan ben Zakai further embellished his movement’s claim that they were not breaking with the past, but conserving it, by adopting a variety of customs to be performed in the synagogue, that previously had been performed only in the Temple… Responding to a radically new reality, the rabbinic movement created an entirely new religious environment while claiming that these new teachings, customs and practices were conservations of what had endured for two thousand years…. This dynamic relationship between innovation and tradition lies at the very heart of Jewish practice and continuity across four thousand years of history. To innovate is a divine command which is inscribed in our daily liturgy. Twice a day we recite the Sh’ma, which in the third verse says that we should inscribe these words across our heart today…. Each day, we must treat Torah as new, as if we were meeting it for the very first time.”
Obviously, I’ve left a lot out, but that really spoke to me – that new is not bad, that new is necessary to keep Judaism going. (And the people who claim that they’re the real traditional we’ve-always-done-it-this-wayers? No, we haven’t always done it this way. We had to create an entirely new way, two thousand years ago, to get past what the Romans did when the Temple was destroyed, and I doubt any Jew except a few ultra-orthodox literalists want to go back to animal sacrifice, either.)
During services we saw a couple of our friends from Intro, D. and D., who waved and who met up with us afterward. But by then my husband was noticing I was getting a little loopy, so he excused us and we went to get dinner. We did not have any waiting at home; scheduling did not permit it. So we went out and grabbed breakfast for dinner and then came home.
This morning my husband was awake before I was. I was exhausted, but I managed to get myself together and get us out the door before we’d be late. This morning he dropped me off and went to find parking; I went inside and got us seats before the sanctuary filled up too much. Again, I put on my tallit. Again, he stressed out about being underdressed because his “dressy” clothes are mostly dark colors. Again, I told him to stop worrying so much.
I also spied two people with tallitot identical to the one he is going to get on his day, which he picked out but has not seen – and won’t until the day – and he was able to relax about his looking “too gay” for the congregation.
The choir was amazing, the cantor was more than amazing, and the student rabbi who gave the sermon did a very interesting d’var Torah on the issue of Isaac. He pointed out that each of the times we encounter Isaac – who is, after all, one of the patriarchs – the story isn’t about him. When he’s born, it’s about the end of his mother’s barrenness, not his life. When his father Abraham is commanded to go sacrifice him, the story’s about Abraham, for the most part. We never find out how Isaac felt, how old he was, how frightened he might have been, how stunned he was to find out his father was going to sacrifice him, or what kind of uncomfortable relationship they had afterwards. None of that is part of the story. When we see him get married, it’s all arranged by others. He barely appears. When he dies, it’s about the fight between his twin sons. At no point is Isaac ever a central or major character, even in his own stories. The d’var was to caution us to not treat people in our lives who should be important as if they’re not – to reduce a relationship to a mere transaction.
We got lunch on the way home – and again, it’s because making our own lunches at home wasn’t an option – and then came home to rest a while. We tried to not do work-like things, and mostly succeeded. Then we left again to go to Tashlich, with a bag of gluten-free challah crumbs.
The city we live in is right on the coast, so getting to a body of water wasn’t an issue for Tashlich. There were probably fifty or sixty people there at the pier – a good-sized crowd – and we had a little prayer-and-song deal before we all wandered down either out on the pier or out on the beach. I threw a lot of crumbs, because there’s a lot of things I’d really like to let go of. Not all of them are sins, but just things I want to either be less bad at or better at. Afterwards, we went to the grocery store to pick up some things for dinner (why couldn’t we eat at home? Because we were short on cash and time and couldn’t go shopping earlier). While we were in the store, an older man walked past me and murmured “Shanah Tovah,” and was gone before I could respond. Once we had dinner fixings, we stopped elsewhere to get ice, because it was still uncomfortably warm for September. Then we came home.
We finished our dinner (beef roast in the crockpot with apples, onions, pomegranate juice, and pie spices; salad with pomegranate pips; apples with honey) about an hour ago, and I just got in here to write all about it.
Two things were a little uncomfortable. There’s a fellow at our shul who, with the best of intentions, manages to put his foot into his mouth a lot. Today was not an exception; he said to me “So, how’s your first Rosh Hashanah feel?” and when I said that it was actually my second, he said “Yeah, but you weren’t a Jew last year.” *facepalm* I know he means well…
The other uncomfortable thing was that at both services the person next to me switched seats with the person on their other side. I don’t know if I was making them uncomfortable for some reason, or if it wasn’t even about me. I hope it wasn’t about me. I’d hate for it to be about me.
But for the most part, the start of our High Holy Days went off pretty well. Let’s hope that Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur go off equally so.
L’Shanah Tovah, everyone.