Sunday, September 25, 2011

Staying home on Rosh Hashana

I’m not going to shul this year.

I have spent every Rosh Hashana in synagogue since I can remember, except for the year my family went to the Grand Canyon instead and read from texts my mother had put together.

When I was little, the thing that helped me sit through temple services was knowing there would be cookies at the oneg afterwards. And on Rosh Hashana, for some reason, there were no cookies. So my earliest memories of Rosh Hashana in a synagogue are of sitting in a pew and thinking, “ugh, what’s the point?” Then, when services were over, I would walk out of the sanctuary with my mother and peek hopefully into the social hall, just in case the temple staff had changed their mind. They never did.

It got better from there, though. I grew into Rosh Hashana. I began to take in the symbols and rituals of the day—apples dipped in honey and Hebrew greetings that twisted my tongue. And the music! The synagogue music began to impress itself on my soul. When I was a teenager, I joined the temple choir. I remember the thrill each year of beginning to practice the songs, and letting the nostalgia and anticipation rush over me.

When I started spending Rosh Hashana in orthodox synagogues, it took a long time to get used to the different melodies and the looooooong davening. But I gradually came to feel at home in this new environment. I married a man with a beautiful and powerful voice. He regularly spends Rosh Hashana hired by synagogues as a guest chazzan.  I have enjoyed the past decade following him around on the holidays and listening to his davening. I prefer it to anything else, even accounting for wifely bias.

Anyway, since my daughters were born four years ago, I’ve found it harder and harder to spend Rosh Hashana in shul. Each year, I try to work out some babysitting solution, and each year I feel split in two wherever I am. Either I’m in shul and worrying about my kids, or with my kids and wishing I was in shul.

Even when I think I’ve got it all figured out, something always backfires. One year, the synagogue that hired my husband assigned personal babysitters to each of my children. They were the BEST babysitters, friendly and attentive non-Jewish teenagers, full of energy and happy to help out. I left my then-two-year-old twins in their care and skipped off to services.

Perfect, right?

Except for the eight-year-old girl who got bored in services and decided to appoint herself assistant babysitter and give all her love to my children. At some point, she decided to bring Y.B. in to “peek” at ima davening. I was alerted to this by the sudden howls of “IMA! IIIIIIMMMMAAAA!!!” interrupting my fervent prayer and drowning out my husband’s rousing song.

You haven’t lived until you’ve gazed across a house of worship on one of the holiest days of the year at the innocent face of an elementary-schooler and wished to snap her neck.


* * *

I was looking forward to going to shul this year. There is a congregation in my neighborhood with amazing, passionate davening, and the mothers get together to organize a babysitting rotation. My daughters are four and my son is two, so they are finally at an age when it should be a bit easier to leave them in a babysitting room.

But there’s something else that’s different this year. My daughters are also old enough to take in and appreciate the specialness of Rosh Hashana. The hours that comprise the synagogue services are also the ones that my girls are the most alert and active and receptive to sharing ideas. I don’t want them spending this time in babysitting.

So I've decided to not split myself in two this year. I am going to stay home with my kids. I will try to immerse myself and my home in the themes of the day—God’s sovereignty, the sweetness of a fresh start, the responsibility of being called to judgment. I will try to get some praying done using the system that works so well for me on Shabbat. And we will prepare for the holiday meals in a leisurely way.

Do I feel completely settled on this plan? No. I spent a good part of my writing time pacing around and reconsidering. I have so many questions. Will I be able to really feel that it is Rosh Hashana without the enveloping awesomeness of the synagogue? How will I fulfill the mitzvah of hearing the shofar? Can I stay focused on the spiritual discipline of bestowing kindness on my children, and not descend into anger and frustration?

We’ll see. I feel relieved and optimistic about the experiment. I learned from my mother that you can even experience the mood of Rosh Hashana at the Grand Canyon. We enjoyed ourselves that year, and the next year we were back at shul. Maybe that’s what will happen to me, too. But I have to give an honest shot at committing myself fully to being at peace in one place, with one focus.

Blessings for a sweet renewal.


katia said...

one of my favorite childhood memories was spending yom kipur at home with my mom every year. we'd snuggle, sing, talk, she'd read us the story of Jonah, tell us stories, we'd play, read, walk, and nap. it must have been a hard day for her, but it was sweet day for us. youre children will cherich these memories!

mother in israel said...

I totally agree--although it can't be easy if you are a guest or in a hotel.

pam opper said...

That Grand Canyon Rosh Hashana was a lovely experience. Thanks for bringing back its sweetness. Don't forget the Birthday Cake! It will make up for all those times there were no cookies.

Chana said...

When my kids were younger, we used to organize a babysitting toranut, which worked pretty well. The kids got to see friends and socialize and everybody got to shul some of the time.

In particular, I remember one of our chevreh who insisted that she didn't need a toranut, that she was *fine* with staying at home with her kids on yomtov as a wife and mother, and blah, blah blah. In the end, she brought her kids with her to shul for tekiat hashofar, and her three-year-old ran up and down the aisle screaming during the shofar blowing. I'm *so* glad she was completely adjusted to her feminine duties, unlike the rest of us malcontents...

Commenter Abbi said...

Well, Chana, she did have to hear shofar blowing at some point and if she was with the kids, she would have to bring them. What other solution would there be? said...

this is great (as always) thanks chaya. I pretty much follow this advice, but I try to go to shul for a half an hour each day of RH. The truth is that this is my favorite way to daven, quick and intense and heartfelt. shana tova, chaya!!!

faith/emuna said...

i agree with chana@jm, if you can get to shul for half an hour you get in the atmosphere and some concentrated davening, without compromising the concept (there are like 5 hrs of shul time, no? so you still get 4.5 with your kids)
shana tova!

Espresso Aroch said...

Abbi - many communities offer "tekiot shniot" or have ba'alei tekiah who will go around to blow shofar for those who cannot get to shul. Tekiot Shniot are after the regular davening is over so women can leave their kids with someone who heard shofar the first time around (husband, older kids, neighbor...) and it only takes a few minutes.

The problem with the half-hour-of-shul plan is not objective. It all depends on how the woman feels. If it's - I am truly OK with being with my kids and with half an hour of shul - so fine. But if she is dissatisfied, bitter or unhappy in any other way that she has only half an hour, that's something else. The question is not how much time with kids / at shul but how we feel about our choices / limitations. Which is why I appreciated this post so much.

Chaya - Of course you can do it! (stay focused etc) You know you can. You will find myriad opportunities to reflect on hamlachat Hashem while being at home, davening there, doing things with or near your kids and preparing the seudot. And I am sure you will find a way to fulfill the mitzva of shofar, too.

Shana Tova umetuka - thanks for your insight and inspiration this year, hope you keep it up!

Commenter Abbi said...

Yes, I know some communities have this, but maybe this one didn't. Regardless, I'm not sure why the first Chana had to be so bitter and sarcastic about the RH SAHM who brought her kids to shul for tekiat hashofar and had a hard time keeping them quiet.

Espresso Aroch said...

Abbi - of course it is better not to be bitter or sarcastic. Also I'm not taking sides with any Ema against any other.

I try to feel for the Ema who wanted so much to be in shul. Also to understand the confusion and disappointment, or whatever we feel, when it looks like others are doing their mitzvot by interfering with ours. Sounds to me that is how Chana felt when she (and all the others in that shul who didn't comment here...) had a harder time concentrating, listening, connecting, because of someone else's kids, when she had (if I understand correctly) arranged babysitting etc.

All halachic authorities I have ever heard agree that if our kids are making noise there is only one right thing to do - take them out, and quickly.

Shana Tova everybody!

sk said...

One idea I heard recently in preparing for RH which would apply well to RH morning home with the kids is this. We think we're so busy, how can we prepare for RH on top of all our other responsibilities? By doing what we're already doing but with a new focus - we're busy with the kids and the house and the seuda, why? All because those are our obligations, our mitzvos. So focus on how youre an eved Hashem and He's the melech and this is why you're playing with your kids - because He gave them to you to look after - and this is why you're chopping up apples - because you're serving the Melech - and this is why you're changing a nappy, keeping your voice calm, laying the table, tidying up - all because youj're being an eved of the Melech.

Okay, I know RH has been already but we have a few more yom tovs to focus for!

Espresso Aroch said...

sk - thanks!!

Debi said...

Just one more idea to throw out there. Vatikin. On RH and Yom KIppur my husband gets up super-eearly to go to vatikin, and I go to shul when he comes back. I get there for mussaf. It's a tremendous effort on his part, but much appreciated, and it works for us, as well as all the other couples who make up the vatikin minyan. BTW, he also goes to an early minyan on Shabbat, and I get to shul at kriat haTOrah.

ML said...

Hi Chaya,

I'm so glad I bumped into this post...
it really is great to hear another person with the same struggle!

Wishing you a spiritual at-home experience!


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