Last night we welcomed the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, with a full house, at worship services. There was much singing; everyone arrived in their High Holy Day finest; and our Rabbi shared thoughts and words that were deeply meaningful and stirring. Every year, this holiday is one that I love to celebrate. The timing of the Jewish New Year speaks more closely to the rhythms of my life. Fall is when my kids go back to school, and when I went back to school before them… and so on, and so on. The shifting from warm, unstructured days, into cooler, highly regulated schedules, and the return to a rhythm that we all fall into together, feels so much more like a true beginning— a New Year, than the traditional calendar date of January 1st ever has. Since I joined the world of Jewish tradition, and celebration, nearly 30 years ago, I’ve really appreciated what all of the ancient cultures saw: this is a natural time for renewal and new starts.
In the cultures and religions around the world, which historically relied on the seasons of crops, and lunar cycles, Fall is an enormous time of change. The crops are in; the earth is turned; the animals prepare, and humans settle in for a quieter, colder time. In our culture, it is when kids return to school and the unscripted magic of summer wanes, and then shifts abruptly to the increasingly demanding school calendar: with it’s early hours, influx of work, and after school activities. Everyone (still in that world) amps up, and our entire lives shift into new venues. For those who are off to college, or starting school for the first time, it marks a dramatic break in family structure— difficult goodbyes and adjustments for parents and kids alike, as well as the exciting prospect of new adventures and amazing new lives for kids who have relied on hearth and home, for most of their needs. It’s interesting to me, that the start of Kindergarten and the start of college, bring very similar adjustments! For so many others, it marks a shift in traffic patterns around town, and the jolt to daily routines— so different from the generally more laid back and fun that summer brings, all around. Regardless of which groove you’re in, it feels like a universal start, a new beginning— a New Year.
And so, again, there we were singing with our Congregation; worshiping this great shift in time (the year 5774 on the Jewish calendar); feeling the richness of community, the excitement of new beginnings, and just as I have each year, I found myself moved to tears. If you’ve never experienced Jewish worship services, the music is truly exceptional. The words—generally sung in Hebrew, are ancient; the tunes come from an Old World, and regardless of the modern, folk-spin that our congregation puts on them, there is an-other-place, deeply moving feel to these tunes, that moves me every time. And then, there is the obvious: the ancient tunes, and the Hebrew words, tie me more than ever to my girl; and, standing in a room full of people, reciting the prayers, singing the songs, speaking of faith, makes me miss her more.
Last year, as I stood in services, my girl had just left for Israel, to begin a year of post-grad studies in religion. She had just converted to Orthodox Judaism. She was moving to Israel to begin a journey toward immigration there: referred to as Aliyah, in Judaism. Situations there were strained and would erupt in bombings and military actions, a few weeks later. At the time, I could barely handle my sense of loss and sadness in knowing she was gone, my fear of the situation that was developing there, as the songs were sung around me. This year, I am in a more settled place with all of that, but once again, my girl just left us, after a two-week visit, and emotions are raw. I know she is grappling with big changes, big things, and I miss her. As a mother, I struggle with not being there to support her in person. Our time together, while she was here, was so precious and sweet, and singing the songs, and looking at families united for a New Year, and united in a faith that she is so deeply tied to, only makes me miss her so much more.
The night before she left this time, she asked me to sleep with her. She would be getting up at 3am to drive with her father to the airport. The idea was that she would (finally!) pack; I would help her; and we would snuggle, for her last night here. I admit it; I’m not a great snuggler. I go to bed to sleep. Snuggling distracts from that, and I’m stuck in my ways. I knew that I would get no sleep if I committed to this snuggle thing, and so I said no. Her face shifted to disappointment, and I reassured her that I’d hang out as long as I could, but then I needed to sleep in my own bed. Instead, we packed her things and then settled down, side by side on her bed, to talk about her first day home, and so many big things coming her way.
We lay there, inches apart, face-to-face— and I wanted to freeze that moment and not move forward. Oh that sweet, beautiful face, so close; and, the two of us in a good and connected place again! Freeze it! My girl has always been a deep thinker, a worrier, a passionate soul whose heart is open to hurt and joy, not always in equal parts. As she talked about things to come, her thoughts on leaving home again and being so far from us, and a place she loves so much, the future— hers, Israel’s, life— I tried to bring her back to the here and now. My girl can spin; and, I held her face and hushed her spinning, and watched her eyes begin to close… just as they had when she was an infant and I would sing her to sleep. I lay for countless moments, watching her peaceful face as she drifted off. Freeze this! I drifted off briefly, the two of us tangled around each other, and tied closely in a knot of love. I woke, made sure she was still dreaming, and drifted off again several times… until the mother in me woke and realized there were things to do.
It was nearly 2am and her iPod wasn’t fully charged; she’d want that for her trip. She’d forgotten to pack food for her unbearably long journey back— Seattle-NYC-Dusseldorf-Tel Aviv, a painful reminder in air miles and hours, of just how far away we are. I got up and put together some gluten-free, kosher snacks. I double-checked her bags, to be sure that tabs were tied down, zippers secured, that she had a name and address tag. I watched her sleep, from a chair in her room. Freeze this! I wished the clock to freeze as well. I’d put off any emotions, at seeing her go again— of accepting that she is out in a big world, far, far from home and that is her path. I’d put off my fears, in hearing from her friends back in Israel, that we should buy her a gas mask, as the threat of Syria using chemicals against Israel, is being taken seriously— taken seriously by Israelis, who are notoriously blasé about these things. I’d put off all of this, and there she lay resting in the bed she grew up in, and I just wanted to freeze it all, and keep her with me.
The alarm clock broke the spell, and she awoke, to her mother still there, snuggling her. We hugged. We both were tired, me up all but 1.5 hours of the night, her having had a few dreams, before her long trip. We were quiet, as we gathered her things. She apologized for the mess she was leaving, and I told her that putting her room back in order was part of my letting go, my grieving her absence. Frankly, I could live without this symbolic act that both she and my older son seem determined to leave me with… the messes of their last-minute packing, and rushed departures. However, I know I will spend time in that room in the next few weeks, smelling her things, and miss her. I’ll feel her presence, tuck her sweaters and things she’s left behind… because they don’t fit in her bag, or it’s too hot there, or her small apartment leaves no room for the “extras.”
As I welcomed in the New Year last night, I left the hall, as I did last year, to reflect on this person I love, who is not here. I left to assist an elderly member who was always so very generous and kind to us, and especially to my daughter. When we moved here, she baked gluten-free treats for my girl, so that she wouldn’t feel left out at Onegs (after service gatherings). She always asks how my girl is, and follows her comings and goings with love and interest. She was struggling with some other things, and needed to leave the hot, crowded sanctuary, and I went to keep her company and make sure she was ok. She asked me all about my girl, and we shared our thoughts on her journey, and how we both see it playing out. She became emotional, for her own reasons, and I held her as she cried… feeling grateful for a shared moment of motherly connectedness. I felt some of the emotions that I’ve been keeping at bay, rise to the surface, and I was glad it was in this moment, shared with a wise, and caring women, who understands. We held hands and sat quietly, each feeling our own things, but connected in a precious moment.
This year, as the US moves toward military strikes on Syria, my mind goes to dark places that are so much more personal, now that my beloved is in harm’s way. My heart hopes for healing and good for my girl, as well as those in the region. More than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria since January, a sobering and disturbing thought, which is often lost in the rush of our own busy lives. My girl works for an arm of the UN, which is working to find refuge for many of the Palestinians trapped in that violence, in refugee camps that are increasingly volatile and desperate. She talks directly with leaders and important people on all sides of the issue, and is very tied to the situation, happening in a country that shares borders with hers. These things in the news hit close to home now for me, and as we enter a New Year, and another period in which I’m adjusting to her absence, to my son leaving again, and to the instability where my girl lives. I work on quieting my fears, and praying for peace, for so many, including this girl I love so much. Ironically, it was at this holiest of services, that we got our gas mask. We’d totally forgotten that a temple member we know, and neighbor, has access to military items. I will be mailing a gas mask to Israel this week.
It is a New Year, for Jews around the world. It is a New Year for me, and for those I love most. It is a chance to look at new challenges and directions in which to travel. It is time for new rhythms and changes, new schedules, new traffic patterns, a new exchange student and member of our family (more to come later), new challenges for my writing (more to come later), two sons who will graduate at the end of this school year (one from high school, my last; and, one from college), a change of season—change, change, change! While I explore and make my own peace with change, with upheaval, I welcome this New Year and acknowledge the challenges ahead. L’Shana Tovah, a sweet, healthy, New Year, filled with worthwhile challenges, peace of mind, peace in its truest sense, good health and joy.
It’s a New Year; if you haven’t already, follow me on Facebook here. Catch my witty and dorky Tweets on Twitter, here. If you’re interested in Rosh Hashanah, here’s a fun article worth checking out, here.