Celebrating the High Holy Days … while entirely missing the point

Sigh … sometimes (lots of the time?) I miss my own point. It takes me a while to get to my a-Ha(!) moment. In this case, having written one very long blog post, I still missed the point. I wrote an entire post about having trouble getting out of bed pre-High Holy Days and it didn’t occur to me until DAYS later that the shofar is our annual alarm clock. Bed … alarm clock … how did I miss this very obvious connection?!

I am thankful that for the grace shown to us during the Yamim Noraim. Every wrong can be made right. Rosh Hashanah signifies not just the beginning of a new year, but a new world where everything can be made right and new.

I hope these days of repentance have been meaningful for you and may we all have an easy fast!

Advertisements

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.

Do we *have* to fight about the High Holy Days?

It was a long morning.

We have a committee in charge of the High Holy Days and this morning I became aware of the first fight they were having amongst themselves and with members of the Board. It’s hard working for a Jewish organization during the High Holy Days. It should be wonderful, but instead it’s just really, really hard. I thought I would have more of the Spring and Summer free of this fighting, but it’s already begun.

What do we fight about? We fight about: (to name a few) ritual and schedules and timing and announcements and typos and any and every imperfection (real or imagined). We fight about whether we are committed enough, welcoming enough, participating enough, and doing enough. In an effort to recognize and observe the significance of the season, we are unkind or downright mean to one another and we inevitably strip the season of all its joy and awe.

And it’s so unnecessary. There has to be a better way, but – mere cog in the machine that I am – I don’t know how to get us there.

So I turned to my Google Reader for solace (seriously, what am I going to do when my Google Reader disappears in 12 days) and when I got to the end of this article about Jewish Life and Time Management from Kosher on a Budget:

Ask yourselves: What must I do, halachically? What do I want to do, personally? What’s important to my husband? My children? Me?

And – most importantly – What can I let go of?

And I almost shout out loud to my computer, “YES!!!” And in thinking of what can be let go, I am reminded of something I was told a long time ago. To THINK: Is it Thoughtful, Honest, Intelligent, Necessary, and Kind. And if it isn’t, let it go.

Lag B’Omer

Lag B’Omer is the 33rd day of the Omer, or the counting of 49 days between Passover and Shavuot. Lag B’Omer is a happy day of celebration on which Jewish people spend time outside- a Jewish “field day” with bonfires and archery.

Since Lag B’Omer fell on a Sunday this year, our Rabbi suggested that the Sunday School celebrate the holiday together. When it came up at the Education Committee meeting, we all stared at each other, confused as to how to proceed. Most of us at the table had never heard of Lag B’Omer, much less celebrated it. And a bonfire? How are we going to make that happen? Bows and arrows? Whaaaaaaaa?!

My heart yearns for the images I see on Pinterest of huge bonfires and epic field day games. However, in our small community, we have to think a little more creatively. So tonight we will be gathering around 3 fire pits, lent to us for the evening by Education Committee members. We’re going to roast marshmallows, play games (sadly, no archery), and just enjoy each others’ company. I will be making adorable Lag B’Omer cupcakes as seen on Pinterest. It should be a wonderful celebration. I really respect that our members provide the children in our community with a diverse and thorough Jewish experience despite our small size and isolation.

The Zionist interpretation of Lag B’omer celebrates the fighting Jewish spirit. You can’t tell me that our little community doesn’t have fighting Jewish spirit to spare 🙂

Pictures of cupcakes to come!

Jews & Food (the first of many, many posts)

Food makes a lot of people crazy, so I don’t think I’m necessarily singling out my people when I say, “Food makes Jews a little crazy.” It really does.

Case in point: I walked into the synagogue kitchen this morning. Empty macaroon canisters all over the counters. On a hunch, I checked the fridge. Sure enough, the bowl of mixed fruit was still mostly full. The floors had all but been licked clean of any macaroon crumbs during the Oneg and Kiddush over the weekend, but the fruit was practically untouched. The end of Passover is in sight, but we are so starved for any good desserts that we forget to even throw away the empty macaroon canisters after so thoroughly devouring the cookies themselves. I got a good laugh out of this one. It’s a good thing to be able to laugh at our own mishegas.

Tonight, Husband and I will have brisket. Not just any brisket, tangy spiced brisket from Smitten Kitchen. It takes 36 hours to make, so making this brisket takes more forethought than I usually have for a Monday night dinner. But oh, is it going to be worth it. We serve it with some butternut squash so that you can pour the au jus over the squash. My mouth is literally salivating. Sigh …

Well, I must get to work, but I hope everyone has something delicious to eat today!

PS. The sun is still shining! Isn’t it wonderful!

 

Happy Easter to all those who celebrate!

Husband and I do not yet have children, but are quickly approaching a time when we expect to expand our family. I may be in the minority of Southern Jews in that I don’t feel the pressure of “The December Dilemma,” that is how do we as (future) Jewish parents explain to our (future) children the value of Hanukkah in the midst of the heavy cultural influences of Christmas. How to be Jewish in a month filled with Christmas carols, Christmas movies, Christmas cookies, and – in our house and I suspect many of your households – Christmas Chinese Food, feels intuitive to me after so many years of celebrating this way. However, Easter presents quite a different dilemma for this Jewish household. Allow me to introduce you to the two reasons why:

IMAG0115 Meet Sally and Linus, our two beloved rabbits. The tan lop-eared bunny who – I’m just guessing – is the cutest thing you’ve ever seen in your life, is Sally. The brown and white bunny is Linus, the sweetest and most timid soul you’ll ever know.

Poor grammar aside, our home abides by this belief:

whorescuedwhoOur rabbits are in many ways the sunshine of our lives, hence the nickname Bunshine (and if you think that’s the only rabbit-related pun I have up my sleeve, stick around this blog awhile because you’re in for some good ones). Sally and Linus are house rabbits who roam the house freely, but prefer to stay on carpet. The house we are currently renting has all hardwood floors, so they are bound to one room by their own choosing. Nonetheless, the house still runs around them. I could go on (and on and on), but I think you’ve got the idea.

So please tell me how I will explain to my future-children that an Easter Bunny is visiting the homes of their Christian friends, but not our home? How will I drag my children away from the display of rabbit paraphernalia in Target, while explaining that the rabbit candy, rabbit decor, and rabbit toys are meant for other children and not for “us?” How could I stop myself from buy my children a card that reads, “Happy Bunny Day?” Rabbits are at the literal and theoretical center of our home for 355 days of the year, so how do we justify to our children that rabbits are verboten on this one day of the year – on Bunny Day, no less!

And let’s be clear, rabbits have nothing to do with Jesus.

Of course, fir trees don’t have anything to do with Jesus either, but my husband and I have made the choice not to bring one into our home in December. For us, the lines are clearly drawn where the December holidays are concerned. But while we don’t feel the need for a Hanukkah Bush, our home will surely receive an annual visit from the Passover Bunny.

None of this is to take away from the spiritual significance of Easter to Christians. To those who celebrate, I wish you all a very Happy Easter! To those who celebrate Easter AND those who don’t, I wish you all a very Happy Bunny Day!