Rosh Hashanah. The Jewish New Year. The start of 5770 (we’ve been counting for a very long time). Deep sigh.
In some ways it started the way New Year’s Eve often starts. A group of people – family and friends – come together around a table that is replete with symbolism and good, sweet spirit. One of the traditions is to eat a fruit you haven’t had yet this year so that you can be thankful for coming to this place of renewal. Apples dipped in honey (honey is, by the way, a theme-food for Rosh Hashanah) symbolizes our hope for blessings of fruitfulness – in all ways … creativity, loving, caring, contributing among the ways. There are traditions that connect certain foods with certain aspects of living. This year, this Rosh Hashanah, is the first time that I can remember having enough time to prepare for this day in a relaxed, contemplative, mindful way …without having to squeeze it into the few hours that weren’t devoted to my job. This year, inspired by a conversation with my son Motti, I decided to put a lot of little things on the table that would be either never-eaten-before things or traditionally symbolic things. Here’s a few of the less traditional foods that adorned the table when everyone gathered together:
- baby coconuts – hoping that whatever nutsy things we had to contend with in the coming year would be tiny, surprisingly sweet, and even a bit of fun;
- baby bananas – because, like us, bananas bruise easily, they show us how important it is to be flexible (have you ever seen an unbent banana?), and if you can get beneath the peel they’re surprisingly sweet;
- leeks – we have many holidays where we light candles and the word for that in hebrew is l’hudlik (pronounced le – hud – leek) … so we hope that there will be many many opportunities to light candles together – in celebration – in the coming years
There were about 18 things altogether and we had some fun figuring out what they might all represent. Hhmm … enough of those ideas would make a funny little book. I digress. But, from that meal on it’s about as different from New Year’s Eve as two celebrations of the turning of the year could be.
One big difference is the amount of preparation it takes to get to “the day”. For David and I, getting to New Year’s Eve means deciding whether we want to go out or not (we usually decide not to), whether we want to celebrate or not (we both want to, but don’t feel that we have to wait for midnightor be with a crowd of people to do that). Then we think about a great meal we could put together, go out and pick up all of the foods we love to celebrate with, and then we go home, watch TV, relax, revel our meal which is accompanied by a bottle of champagne, and we’re well into dreamland when the clock strikes twelve. The next day we can relax in the morning (for me that means stay in bed a little longer, moving slowly into the day, checking what movies are on; for David it means time for an extra long run and then, after coming home and cleaning up, making a movie plan and enjoying a day of relaxation). The day after that it’s back to ‘normal’.
We started talking about Rosh Hashanah, and I started planning, weeks ahead. I prepared the chicken soup (and froze it) about two weeks ahead. Matzo balls were ready – and frozen – five days ahead, and the last two days before the holiday began were mostly spent – joyfully – cooking. Rosh Hashanah started on Friday evening, but the celebratory meal leads into hearing the blasts of the shofar in synagogue. This year the shofar was only blown on the 2nd day of Rosh Hashanah … yes, there are two days … since the first day was the sabbath. And, by the way, there are many places where women blow the shofar as well as men … just listen to this:
The sound of the shofar signals the beginning of 10 days to reflect, to ask for forgiveness for one’s actions over the past year, and to commit to the process of always working to become a better human being. 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, 10 days to be ready to spend an entire day fasting and praying and committing myself to growing as a human being.
And here’s where another of retirement’s blessings kicks in. I have a lot of things on my calendar over the next 10 days; they’ll include 3 Bar Mitzvah lessons, 1 graduate class to teach, 1 choir practice, a day with my grandson Noam to celebrate his 6th birthday by flying him into Toronto (his mother’s coming for a meeting and he can travel with her and Frieda), going together to Reptilia (to see Canada’s largest venomous snake and other reptile treats … something I’d only do for a much loved grandson), having lunch out somewhere, and then flying back to Ottawa with him for a couple of hours on our own there too before his Mom’s back and we’ll all go to his house and join his Dad and brother for a birthday dinner followed by a party – with a magician – the next day. I’ll fly home on Sunday in time to prepare for the beginning of the end of those 10 days … Yom Kippur … the day of reckoning. Because I’m retired I will still have lots of time between now and Friday for contemplation, for reflecting on my own past year and how I can make the next one better. I’ll have time to sit by myself and think. Actually, having the time to write this blog post is a part of that gift too; this year, for the first time, I’ve had enough time to really enter into the New Year.
So I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a loving person. A few days ago I was watching Defying Gravity on TV. Great show, storyline around a crew of eight astronauts living aboard an international spacecraft on a mission through the Solar System, as the world watches from billions kilometers away. Those of you who’ve been following this blog for a while know that I’m often inspired by what I see or hear on TV. This insight into what it means to be loving – at least in a relational way – really touched my heart. Two mission control colleagues who also both have partners in space: Rollie Crane – a grounded astronaut himself , and Eve Shaw – employed by the corporation that has invested trillions in this mission – are talking. Here’s what Rollie says:
You know what I do every night. I clean my kitchen table. I clean my kitchen table. Jen hates it when I leave my stuff out on it – my wallet, my mail, whatever … drives her nuts. ‘A kitchen table is neutral territory Rolle, you have an office – use it’. So every night I collect my wallet and my mail and I put it in my desk in my office and then I wipe down the table. Just in case Jen comes walking through the door.”
Doing something just because you know it would make somebody else happy regardless of whether or not they know you did it. Living as if it really matters what you do, taking real responsibility for what you do … because you want to. You choose to.
Isn’t that what putting more love into the world is all about? Is this just a media version of what loving is all about? I don’t know, but it strikes me that it’s the kind of caring for each other, loving each other, that we all need more of.
I’m glad that I have some time over the next 10 days to really think about this. Glad that I’m blessed to be retired.