Celebrating the High Holy Days … when you can barely get out of bed

My life looks a lot different now than it did at the time of my last in July. My husband and I moved to a different town in a different state so that he could make a big career change. So I am no longer working for Jewish organization where I have worked the past 3 years.

I left the organization exactly one month before the start of the High Holy Days. When I left, I quietly thanked G-d that I wouldn’t have to administrate another year’s holidays. For the past three years, holidays and Holy Days have been work. For me it was holy work, but it certainly wasn’t a holiday. Last year was the first year of my adult life that I didn’t truly fast on Yom Kippur. I could not have gotten through the work that I had to do if I had fasted. Those were busy and exhausting times during which I contemplating quitting my job roughly 47 times a day. It’s a lot of pressure to be in charge of other people’s High Holy Days experience.

This year, I thought I was being handed a great gift in that I am only responsible for my own High Holy Days experience. It turns out, this is even harder to manage. The pressure is on. Because no one can put pressure on me as effectively and deftly as I can. In short, I’m a good Jewish woman.

My husband recently went through a solid 24 hour period where he second-guessed his decision to move our family for this career change. We learned some pretty disappointing news and it sent us both into a bit of a funk. We talked about it and I admitted that I still feel the exhaustion of having moved to a new place. It’s been a month, but I still haven’t found a rhythm to life here. I like my life here. It’s a great town. I still believe that the changes we made are positive and will continue to be positive. But I still haven’t figured out the little things in life that you have to figure out anew when you’ve moved to a new place. I have to learn how to feed us without easy access to Trader Joes (90% of the food we bought came from Trader Joes). I’m thrilled that I have more time to cook food from scratch for us, but without my trusty grocery store and good stand-bys, we either eat 3 course meals that took me hours to prepare or we eat cereal. There is no in-between for us yet. We are driving more than we like because sometimes we misread the bus schedule and I have to drive my husband to work. I am working from home and … I don’t know what that means, yet. Who am I when I work at home? What is my purpose in a day. What motivates me to get dressed on days when I don’t leave the house? What does it mean that there are days that I don’t leave the house?

I’m not depressed. Life is good. But facing the new-ness in every day is exhausting. And then we got that disappointing news and, OK, I got a little depressed. And husband spent 24 hours second-guessing the changes we’ve made. And I spent almost 24 solid hours in bed.

Here’s the thing about bed in this modern era. You can do a lot from your bed. I worked. I responded to emails. I talked with people. I read books. I watched a little bit of television. It wasn’t like I spent 24 hours starring at the ceiling. I did, however, spend most of the day in bed. Which brings me to my dilemma. You can’t celebrate the High Holy Days from bed. With laptops and cell phones, you can accomplish a lot from bed, but not a lot of celebrating can happen.

You can’t bake round challah in bed. You can’t braise brisket from bed. You can’t get ready to head to synagogue in bed. You can’t attend services from bed (OK, maybe there are services available to stream online, but I am unfamiliar with this, so my premise stands). You probably shouldn’t eat apples and honey in bed, because the honey gets messy. So I guess I have to get out of bed, right?

While the community of Jews whom I love most in the world (they also happen to be the community of Jews who frustrate me most in the world) prepares for Erev Rosh Hashanah, I am preparing to attend services at a building I’ve never been to and with people that I’ve never met. It’s been a long time since I’ve sat in a service with nothing to do, but listen and pray. Here is a humbling thing for me to admit: After three years of kvetching that I never got to just sit and enjoy a service, here I am with the opportunity to just sit and enjoy a service and I am truly lamenting that there isn’t a task for me to perform at the service. When I have a job or task to do, I know where I fit into a community. Without a task, I perhaps feels like I DON’T fit into a community (OK, I definitely feel that way). I’m like a little kid trying to get out of going to school on the first day. I know I’m going to end up going, but I still have this image of my husband dragging me out of here, my fingernails clutching the door frame, while I yell “Don’t make me go!!!”

These are the Days of Awe. On a whim, I looked up the Merriam-Webster definition of awe. Awe : an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred. Sigh. Yep, that sounds about right.

So this morning, really unsure of how to motivate myself, I put on the Maccabeats. I feel like my neighbors might notice if I just listen to Book of Good Life on repeat, so I’ve also been listening to Aleinu, Oseh Shalom, and Adon Olam, you know, just to mix things up.

The lyrics to “Book of Good Life”:

Woke up and realized yesterday
Think it’s a bummer end of the summer
Kinda nervous that we’re almost there
At the days of awe

Prayers in a language that I don’t know
Standing for hours and hours more
I wish that someone would please tell me-e-e-e
What it is we’re praying for

Oh put me in the book of good life
I just wanna live the good life
This could really be a good life, good life

Say oh, we’ve got feelings that we should fight
Make sure that we’re choosing right
Gotta earn my own place in
The book of good life

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, the here and now
Easier than regret and planning out
Living in the moment, lasts for a moment
Got my future to think about

When you’re sitting there in shul
Wishing it was over
You gotta take a beat
And let it all sink in

Oh put me in the book of good life
I just wanna live the good life
This could really be a good life, good life

Say oh, we’ve got feelings that we should fight
Make sure that we’re choosing right
Gotta earn my own place in
The book of good life

Hopefully
This year will bring us happiness and peace
Hopefully
Sensitivity to others will increase
Hopefully
We’ll open our eyes and think more consciously
Cause Hopefully
We’ll go from where we are to where we want to be

Oh put me in the book of good life
I just wanna live the good life
This could really be a good life, good life

Say oh, we’ve got feelings that we should fight
Make sure that we’re choosing right
Gotta earn my own place in
The book of good life

Oh yeah
Book of Good life
Ooh

Listen
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
Shanah Tovah to everyone

This year what sticks out to me most as I listen to the song is “Hopefully.” I may not be full of energy and I may not be full of motivation, but I am full of hope. We moved here, left the town where I’d lived for a decade and our frustrating/dear community of crazy/wonderful Jews, because of hope. We’ve pinned a lot of our hopes on the year ahead of us … no pressure or anything. However, I refuse to be ruled by fear at this time of year. Exhaustion is not the antithesis of this time of year, but fear is. We are meant to ask forgiveness without fear, offer forgiveness without fear, and hope without fear. So hope is what gets my tuchus out of bed and into a synagogue full of strangers, who, duh(!), won’t always be strangers. My heart will be open, because hope allows it to open easily.

I am excited to fulfill the mitzvah of hearing the shofar. I am excited that we already know of a pond nearby where ducks gather (for Tashlikh). I am excited to dip apples in honey, while hoping for a sweet new year. I am even, or especially, excited for transformation of teshuvah

And so, after a process that took me a few days, I finally am able to echo “The Book of Good Life” and wish a “Shanah Tovah to everyone!” I hope that 5774 is kind to you and may you be inscribed in the book of life.

PS. The Maccabeats cover of “Brave” is also pretty wonderful. As is Sara Bareilles’ original video. Definitely another song in the spirit of being full of hope for 5774.

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