If you don’t know anything about Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, I urge you to read this first, as it will provide…
When I was a little girl, a Sunday School teacher told me that on Rosh Hashanah, G-d opened a big book that had everyone’s names in it, young and old. He explained how between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, G-d would decide who would live and who would die in the upcoming year. And how. Which was a pretty scary concept. …
Once I shared my fears with you and you supported me. As I move toward Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, I thought I would share a list of my transgressions. I know many of you think of me as the sparkly girl, and I am that. But I am other things, too. I am not proud of all of my parts. I am working on being a better me. Each year, a little better. Maybe.
i am inappropriately dressed in beat-up cowboy boots.
i am a weeping willow with dandelion roots.
i am a scarlet candle burning at both ends.
i’m a will that never bends.
i am a fancy cage
a terrible shopper
a binder clip
a pillow proper.
scared and missing pieces.
i am rumpled
i am crumpled
i am wrinkled in the creases.
i’m a Scorpio in a garden of misery.
i’m a cockroach, a ladybug, and a bumblebee.
i’m an elbow.
i’m a knee.
a taker of things, i am squalor.
i am a spike at your collar.
i am a dying tree.
i am hyperbole.
i am indignant and misguided,
i am useless, undecided.
i am bossy.
i am needy.
i am cruel.
i am eternal summer.
too lush and hot and wild.
i am not a good enough mother.
and i am an ungrateful child.
i am an eye and a hand, recording what i see.
i am too many plates, stacked precariously.
i am a closed library.
i am relentless.
i am wordy.
i am repentant.
please forgive me.
What is one thing that you don’t like about yourself? What part of you would you like to slough off or change?
It kind of worked for me.
If you don’t know anything about Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, I urge you to read this first, as it will provide context for today’s post.
It’s always rough to find seats on the High Holidays.
This year, we found ours in the balcony.
I’d never sat up there before, above the rest of the congregation.
Above the rabbis.
Above the sacred scrolls.
It was weird.
Because we usually sit facing forward, facing the Torahs at the front of the room, normally I can only see the few people sitting in front of me and on either side.
This year’s bird’s-eye view allowed me to see all the way to the back of the sanctuary.
I could see people come late and settle in the uncomfortable green seats in the rear, rather than come farther up to find half-empty pews up front. I could see people holding their prayer books – going through the motions, standing and sitting at the right times – but whispering and laughing during much of the service. I saw people sleeping. And I saw people sending text messages. I watched as they tried to hide their devices on their laps or below their seats or behind their prayer books.
I have always wondered about people who attend temple on the High Holidays but don’t really listen to the message.
Our rabbi noted that the more difficult a holiday is to keep, the more people actually do it. He said this is why more people show up on Yom Kippur – a fasting day – than on any other regular old Jewish holiday.
I would argue it’s the life and death thing that packs the house.
For many Jewish people, there is a sense that if you don’t show up for the High Holidays, you are risking some serious bad karma: Why take the risk and stay home? Maybe some people think that just by showing up they might tip the cosmic scales.
So they come.
But why come if you are just going to talk? Or text?
Why come if your heart isn’t in it?
During his sermon, the rabbi called upon us to think about how we can be better people in 5773.
And then I was caught.
Because what was I doing but sitting there judging others?
I was ashamed.
Being a Smuggy Schmostein is rarely productive.
After temple, my husband, my son and I put on our street clothes, and walked to a nearby creek to perform tashlich, a ritual where Jews gather near a live body of water to recite a prayer in which we ask G-d to “cast our sins into the depths of the sea.”
As we emptied our pockets, removing all the lint and crud that had accumulated in the littlest nooks and crannies and shook out our clothes, I felt better. These rituals, strange as they might seem, do offer comfort. In performing tashlich, I felt like I had been given an opportunity to leave old shortcomings behind, thus allowing for the chance to start the year with a clean slate.
Standing by the creek with my long list of transgressions, I silently apologized for judging the back-of-the sanctuary-sitters, the chitty-chatters, and the temple-texters.
And I promised not to sit in the balcony again.
Because, really, who am I to place myself above anyone else?
Who am I to judge?
I made a mental note to add “honey” to my grocery list.
As is the tradition, we wished each other a sweet year, one filled with good health and peace.
And I extend the same wishes the same to each of you.
We could all use a little less bitter and a little more sweetness in our lives. Don’cha think?
So what’s on your real and figurative grocery list this week? I definitely need honey, but I’ll leave judgment on the shelf, next to the Ho-Ho’s.
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When I was a little girl, a Sunday School teacher told me that on Rosh Hashanah, G-d opened a big book that had everyone’s names in it, young and old.
My teacher explained how, each year, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, G-d decided who would live and who would die in the upcoming year. And how. By fire or by water; by plague or by earthquake. The list went on forever.
I remember imagining a really old, wrinkled guy in white robes sitting at a silver desk perched on top of clouds. In his smooth, shaky hand, he held a gold pen that he used to cross-out people’s names.
On The High Holy Days, I dressed in the fancy clothes that my mother had laid out for me and sat in temple all day with my family.
And as the adults chanted words in English and Hebrew, I played nervously with the knots on my father’s prayer shawl.
And I looked around and wondered who was not going to be there the next year.
Because it was a pretty scary idea: that G-d was making decisions all the time based on how we behaved.
(‘Cuz I wasn’t always the best little girl.)
But there was a lot more to that prayer: a part that I didn’t figure out until years later.
The prayer reads:
But Repentance, Prayer, and Charity avert the severe Decree! This is Your glory: You are slow to anger, ready to forgive. G-d, it is not the death of sinners You seek, but that they should turn from their ways and live.
Until the last day You wait for them, welcoming them as soon as they turn to You (314).
Those words are a gift.
They mean that if we really have open hearts and want to do right for all the messed up shizz we have done throughout the year, through prayer and acts of love and kindness, we can change a course previously set in motion.
Jews have ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to try to set things right.
And G-d is reasonable.
Like a good parent.
For example, when your kid messes up and you calmly explain: “Listen, I asked you to clean your room, but you ignored me. If you clean your room, take out the garbage, wash the dishes, and walk the dog, you can have your iPod back tomorrow.”
G-d is cool like that. G-d does not say:
You were bad so I’m putting you out of your house, buddy. Nothing you can do about it now, sucker!
Not at all.
G-d wants us to recognize and admit that we have goofed up during the year.
And we can fix these things.
We can apologize.
To have that chance, to be able to fix what has been broken, is something I take pretty seriously.
It is a scene that shows a little of what Yom Kippur is about.
For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the film, Yussel Rabinovitch, the son of an Orthodox cantor, decides to leave his religious tradition and follow his heart.
He leaves his synagogue and the expectations of his family to continue as a cantor. (Whaaat?)
He leaves his childhood sweetheart, Rivka. (Unheard of.)
He drives across country because he wants to sing popular music. Non-religious music. (He’s meshuganah.)
He changes his name, loses his Jewish identity, and becomes Jess Robin.
He meets another woman. (Oy.)
She’s not Jewish. (Double oy.)
They fall in love.
At some point, Jess is in New York and he runs into one of his father’s old friends who tells him that his father has been ill.
The doctors won’t let Cantor Rabinovitch sing on Yom Kippur due to his high blood pressure.
We learn that a Rabinovitch has always sung on Kol Nidre for — like — 912 generations. (Or at least 3.)
But Jess Robin humbly returns to his roots and becomes Yussel Rabinovitch for Yom Kippur.
Even though his father has declared him dead.
Even though he has been excommunicated.
He goes back to apologize the only way he can.
(Note: I start crying at 1:24.)
This is what we are supposed to do.
(No, not the singing thing!)
We are supposed to humble ourselves — to those we have hurt, to G-d — in that kind of honest way.
The High Holy Days give Jews a chance to reflect on the wrongs we’ve committed to those around us, to make amends for those wrongs, and face the new year with gratitude, and hope that we’ve been given a chance to start anew.
Bottom line: We have all sinned.
We are human.
This year, the fasting is over.
The table has been cleared.
What’s done is done.
The Book is closed.
I’ve done what I can.
I guess this is where the faith part comes in.
Now the trick is to be a better me in 5772.
Now listen to Babs sing and tell me what you feel when you hear her voice.
Stern, Chaim. Ed. Gates of Repentance: The New Union Prayerbook for the Days of Awe. 2. New York: Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1985. 313-4. Print.
© Renée Schuls-Jacobson 2011