Do you celebrate Rosh Hashana like your parents did? What do you borrow from the High Holiday celebrations of your youth?
This is what I am thinking today on Rosh Hashana 5773, Day Two.
It occurred to me this morning, the second day of the new Jewish Year that we didn’t go to services the day before.
Even writing that statement feels funny. It occurred to me. I’m a little embarrassed; a little ashamed, even.
I accidentally forgot to go to services.
This is particularly ironic since, when I was a kid, Rosh Hashana was one of two days during the year when you could be sure to find me inside a synagogue (or at the very least, on the playground of a synagogue, or in a crowded hallway of a synagogue among other hormonal teenage girls spying on well-groomed oblivious teenaged boys.)
It’s ironic because now I am an adult living on a fairly traditional kibbutz in Northern Israel; now, I go to Friday night services at least twice a month; now, I speak Hebrew and think about God:
Now, is when I forgot to go to services.
Instead of going to synagogue on the morning of Rosh Hashana — and I write “instead” very loosely since there really was no active choice involved; I simply forgot — I hung around my in-laws’ house, enjoyed a nice breakfast with my family, and played with the baby kitten my son befriended in the yard.
It’s not that I forgot it was Rosh Hashana. Certainly not. It’s a state holiday. I dipped apples in honey. I thought about the people I had hurt the year before and made a silent intention to right wrongs. I sent New Year’s greetings to loved ones and blessed my children. I kissed my husband with gratitude. I ate brisket.
But I didn’t go to services.
It only occurred to me once we returned to Hannaton later that evening that we really should go to synagogue. It was Rosh Hashana after all.
I thought back to the High Holidays of my youth. I thought about my young parents; and my childhood home. I thought about sweet kugel at my Bubbi’s house. I thought about the new dress from Botwinick’s my mom and I would shop for and the fresh pair of itchy tights we’d break out of the package on the morning of Rosh Hashana. I thought about my brother struggling into a suit from Fleet’s and my dad in a black nylon kippah. I thought about my mom in high heels. My mom hardly ever wore high heels.
I thought about posed family photographs in the front driveway. Plastic smiles, but pretty pictures.
I thought about making it to synagogue early enough to hear the Torah, but not so early that we were the first ones there (10:15 am). I thought about the challenge to find parking in the neighborhood behind Beth El. And worse yet, on the years it would rain.
I thought about parting with my parents as they made their way to their assigned seats in the auditorium…and in later years to the Main Sanctuary. I thought about the classrooms turned into babysitting rooms; and the small chapel I dutifully spent ten minutes inside.
As I recall the Rosh Hashanas of my youth, I don’t recall prayer. This is certain.
But I recall tradition.
Intentional or accidental, our family had a Rosh Hashana tradition. A custom practiced year upon year and, in some little way, passed down to generations. Customs out of the ordinary that I only associate with the High Holidays.
Last night, when it occurred to me that we didn’t go to services, I suggested to my husband that we take the kids the next morning and he agreed.
Not because I felt compelled to pray. Not for fear of the wrath of God. Not even because I thought it was “the right thing to do.”
I took my kids to synagogue because remembering the boring, overdressed, agitated, sometimes hormonal, often drama-filled High Holidays of my youth opens up my heart.
It’s like playing an 80s video on YouTube.
It’s like reading an old journal entry.
It’s like running into an ex-boyfriend on the street.
It’s like smelling your grandmother’s perfume.
It’s like looking at the pictures of your baby’s birth on his 6th birthday.
This is the nature — and the merits — of tradition.
And I want my children to experience the overwhelm of their hearts opening.
They can’t possibly know it today as they argue over who got a bigger glass of grape juice; as they complain about having to pin the kippah to their heads; as they moan and groan as we walk up the hill to the Beit Knesset underneath the hot sun.
But someday they will remember.
And their hearts will burst with feeling.
And they will welcome in the New Year.