Mixed Feelings on the Eve of the Jewish New Year

I’ve been so caught up with school starting and work to do and all sorts of things that I didn’t give much thought to the onset of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which begins tonight at sundown.

In my more religious days, I’d have been cooking now for several days – baking challah (probably 6 loaves to last for 2 ritual meals per day over the course of the holiday and the ensuing Shabbat), making chicken and brisket and buying enough vegetables for salads.

I’d have stocked up on wine and grape juice, and I always liked making foods that were symbolic for this holiday – carrot dishes, to symbolize the importance of seeing (good eyesight) the truth at this time of reckoning; fish dishes, preferably with the heads still on, to emphasize being like the head rather than the other end; and pomegranates, messy as they are to pull out the seeds, because legend has it that a pomegranate holds 613 seeds within its skin, exactly the same number as the commandments.

I’ve done none of that this year. Truth be told, the only shopping I did was to buy a ton of vegetables for the elaborate trays I make upon request for every family gathering. My mother and my aunt have made my grandmother’s gefilte fish recipe (yum), and I’m sure there will be matzoh balls in chicken soup, brisket, maybe chopped liver, who knows.

Dan and Grace and I will go to my family tomorrow night to welcome the holiday. The rest of the kids will be with their dad this year for Rosh Hashanah; I get them next week for Yom Kippur and in three weeks, for Simchat Torah, when we dance with the parchment scrolls and celebrate the gift of learning.

I’ve actually been glad to not have the kids for Rosh Hashanah this year because then I can make the holiday my own time of quiet contemplation. Sure, I’ll miss them, but this is how divorce goes, and it’s not a bad thing for a mother, and a working mother at that, to have some time alone to ponder the meaning of life and belief.

I may or may not hear the ancient wailing call of the shofar (ram’s horn) to wake us up, literally and figuratively. I may or may not go to synagogue – with the kids, I would, but for me, I might commune with nature.

And yet, as I scroll through Facebook these last couple of days, especially last night, I feel wistful as I see pictures of my friends’ bubbling chicken dishes and just-baked perfect round challahs and so many other things that used to be the hallmarks of my year.

To be sure, I could resume any and all observances if I so choose. It’s not that simple, though. I miss the peace of everything stopping at precisely 18 minutes before sundown on Friday and continuing in perfect silence until 45 minutes after sundown on Saturday. But it’s my choice not to observe in the same way, and it’s not because I want to run from the quiet.

Falling out of a community because of inherent hypocrisies (which, yes, exist everywhere, in all religions, in all communities, just as there is beauty and reverence and inspiration and wonderful people in all these same places) has meant falling away but into what?

We’ve landed at a lovely synagogue (Adat Shalom in Farmington Hills), where we feel at home but are not yet part of the community (through no fault but our own). Life gets in the way when you don’t have hard and steadfast rules. When you can drive on the Sabbath, you can also drive to the mall. I see the slippery slope of loosening the rules.

I still believe, especially at this time of year, that reverence and belief are very personal notions and states of being. They are for no one else to comment on but the keeper. And they are as individual as each human being.

Still. I am 42 years old and as the big new year is upon us, I realize the importance of reckoning with myself, rather than coasting on what I’m not doing – deliberately choosing, rather than discarding what doesn’t work.

It’s a lifelong pursuit. And here’s hoping for a healthy happy new year to get it right once again.

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