Tag Archives: Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah 5776

So, first off – L’Shanah Tovah tikatevu! May your New Year be sweet and bring good things into your life.

Apples and Honey

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.)

Anyway.

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.

Rosh Hashanah
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.

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Last post for the New Year – for now.

After the spiritual helicopter, I got myself back together just in time to notice that the Torah reading was going to be split up among several people – people chanting the Hebrew, and then people reading the English translation. I also noticed that there were different siddurim in the sanctuary than our usual weekly siddurim – older, and not nearly as much transliteration available. I stumbled through the Hebrew after the second person started chanting – much faster than I was ready for.

But the interesting thing is that the rabbi called for aliyah in a way that I don’t know if anyone expected. He said “if you have helped the hungry this past year, in any way at all – from working in a food bank or at a food kitchen to helping someone hungry eat in some other way, please rise.”

So I did, because I have. When I see a homeless person asking for money, I try to help them get at least enough food for a meal. It’s a thing I’ve always done. Then he had everyone standing – including me – chant the blessing on the Torah. In response to the rabbi’s call: Barchu et Adonai ham’vorach, we then all sang:

Baruch atah Adonai hamvorach le’olam va’ed. Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melech ha-olam, asher bachar banu mikol ha-amim, v’natan lanu et Torato. Baruch atah Adonai, notein ha-Torah.

Then the chanter read the first part of the parshah – the story of Abraham and Isaac and the burnt offering that wasn’t – and then an English translator read it in English. And then those of us who had been called to aliyah were asked to stand again and chant the closing blessing on the Torah:

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melech ha-olam, asher natan lanu Torat emet, v’chayei olam nata b’tocheinu. Baruch atah Adonai, notein ha-Torah.

Then we sat down.

The rabbi called four more groups to aliyah: those who had sat with the dying in the past year, those who were military or law enforcement, those who were doctors and healthcare workers, and those who were therapists and counselors. All of the groups got to say both the opening and closing blessings on the Torah.

The rabbinical student gave the sermon. It was a profound sermon, about how we are reminded that death is something we may have to deal with any moment, and how Jewish tradition makes us face death and the reality of our mortality on a regular basis. Then she followed up with how tzedakah, teshuvah and tefillah are what we should practice to make that knowledge less frightening. I complimented her afterwards – she’s going to make a great rabbi.

Then there were more prayers and songs, the Torah scrolls were carried around so we could all kiss our siddur or our tzitzit and then touch them to the Torah – that was profound – and then more prayers, the redressing of the Torah, the opening of the Ark (that part happened several times during the service, but this one was to put the scrolls away) and a closing song. I had been there for about an hour and twenty minutes because of misreading the time on my ticket, but I was glad to be there. I had several chats with people after, including the young choir member I’d met the night before.

On the whole, it was a good Rosh Hashanah at temple. I made a great dinner when I got home, too.

But the rough part of the High Holy Days is still to come. Yom Kippur is going to be a marathon; today was more like a gentle jog. I hope I am able to see it through the way I want to.

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Looking back, looking forward

1 Tishri 5775

As I dip an apple into honey and taste the sweetness of the new year, I am also taking stock of my life for the Days of Awe.

“Dipping Apples in Honey.” From Elana’s Pantry on Flickr: http://tinyurl.com/oav6c9u. Used under Creative Commons license.

“In Judaism, the focus is not on what a terrible person you are for doing something, the focus looks forward to aiming more carefully when you take the next shot.” – Rabbi Adar

Since this is my first Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe) as a prospective Jew (and hopefully my last one as a prospective Jew), I have to consider more than just the past year. Whom have I harmed with my words or actions? To whom do I need to make amends, and how do I go about doing that?

The hardest thing about apologies, for me, is that words are never really enough to get my remorse across. I’m always worried that no matter how sincere I know I am, it’s going to come across to the other person as “just words” being said because I have to say them, not because I mean them.

But I know a few guidelines for making an apology real:

“I’m sorry if you felt bad when I…” is not an apology. It deflects responsibility for the problem onto the other person.

Any explanation for bad behavior comes across as an excuse, and thus negates an apology.

The formula that I read about for making a true apology (about teaching little kids to apologize and mean it, of all places) goes like this:

1. Say what you are sorry for. “I’m sorry that I said hurtful things about you/your __________.”

2. Say why you are sorry for it. “It was really inappropriate for me to say those things about you/your _________, and I shouldn’t have done that.”

3. Say what you will do differently next time – and frame it positively, not negatively. “Next time I’ll wait for you to ask my opinion before I give it.”

4. Ask for – but do not expect – forgiveness. “I ask for your forgiveness for what I did.”

But Judaism also requires that we make amends for what we did, if possible. I have been unsure how to make amends for hurtful words and behaviors when the harm done has no physical basis but is emotional and spiritual (which I am guilty of a lot more than I want to be – in fact, it’s the main thing that I find myself realizing I need to apologize for).

I have had people suggest that I ask the person I wronged for suggestions for how I should make amends, so today I tried that.

Today, I sent an e-mail to a former friend who is a devout Christian, whom I’m sure I harmed many times over the course of our friendship due to my antipathy towards the fact that she was religious. I also sent an e-mail to a colleague whose husband, one of my former professors, died this spring, to apologize for not reaching out to her when it happened. In both cases, I concluded with a request: if there is anything I can do to make amends, please let me know and I will do it to the best of my ability.

I may never hear back from either of them, but that’s not the point. The point is that I have done what I can. Seeing either of them in person is not really possible; we live nowhere near each other. Phone calls are difficult because I can’t hear on the phone very well. So, although it’s not ideal, an e-mail is actually the best way to apologize at this point.

I am still struggling over whether I should reach out to my mother. She harmed me, a lot, and I don’t know if I want to put myself in that position again. There are a couple of other people whom I’ve had fallings-out with, but where the falling-out was mutual, so I’m also not sure what to do there.

I have things I need to apologize for to my partner, but that’s between us, and that will happen this week when he’s home, calm, and rested.

But there’s one other person that I also need to make amends with. That person is me. I’ve been slacking on my physical health all year – saying “yes” to the ice cream far too many times, and avoiding the walks that I know are necessary for my health. I’ve also been a bit lax on the whole mental-health maintenance thing. I need to change my aim from the in-the-moment pleasure to the long-term goal.

So that’s what I resolve to do this year. I apologize to myself for putting the immediate before the long-term, and I resolve to do better this year.

Time for reflection on the past year

Time to figure out what we’re doing here

Replace the guilt with inspiration, and everything is clear

Life in the present seems more fun

Easier than regret, what’s done is done

Living in the moment lasts for a moment

Shana Tovah to everyone! 

– The Maccabeats, “Book of Good Life”

Depression means living in the past. Anxiety means living in the future. What does it mean when you live in the moment and only in the moment? Recklessness. Time to stop living in the moment all the time. I used to be very bad at this; now I’m way too good at it. It’s time to strike a balance.

Mindfulness is the key, I think. Obsessing over the past (which I cannot change), worrying about the future (which will be here when it gets here) and using the present to hedonistically ignore them both is not working. It’s time for mindfulness.

So this year, in 5775, I will aim for mindfulness. Not obsession; just mindfulness, you understand. Awareness. Observation. And because I’m way too good at beating myself up for even minor mistakes (that merger of a Catholic early upbringing and Jewish guilt can create a perfect storm), I’m going to work on not doing that. It’s counterproductive. Instead of beating myself up, I should be beating a fast path to the door of those I’ve wronged – and for minor mistakes that can’t be fixed, I need to learn to let go of it.

Shanah Tovah, everyone.

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L’Shanah Tovah!

1 Tishri 5775

L’Shanah Tovah, everyone.

It is a new year, and time to be a sanctuary. That’s what the rabbi’s sermon at my shul was about tonight.

So, I make these resolutions for the new year:

… to be a sanctuary to myself, and a safe place to land when things are hard.

… to be a sanctuary to my partner and my best friend, that they might find peace and comfort.

… to be a sanctuary to my daughters, that they might find help and understanding.

… to be a sanctuary to my friends, that they might find companionship and connection.

… to be a sanctuary to my students, that they might find wisdom and knowledge.

And finally, to be a sanctuary to Adonai, that he might dwell beside and within me, and that I might learn the thirteen attributes of mercy in the coming year.

L’shanah tovah tikatevu – May you all be inscribed and sealed for a good year.

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