Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Here's how it was

Hey, Rosh Hashana was great! How was yours? My mornings (if morning can be said to end at 3:00 PM) at home with the kids were relaxed and pleasant. We didn’t get stir crazy, and I even got to fit in quite a lot of davening. I really liked not having anywhere to go, just focusing on prayer, teaching the kids about the holiday, and getting ready for our guests. We had a lot of guests for lunch both days, which brought a lively and festive energy into our home.

I was worried that it would be hard to step into the awesomeness of Rosh Hashana without the physical environment of the synagogue. I found that it wasn’t so challenging after all—the liturgy itself is awe-inspiring, and that was true even for solitary prayer.

I wasn’t sure how I would fulfill the mitzvah of hearing the shofar. This is a mitzvah from which women are technically exempt for exactly the reasons that made it difficult for me. But historically, Jewish women have accepted shofar as an obligation. And really, what’s Rosh Hashana without the shofar. I thought about going to shul with my kids and standing just outside during shofar. Don’t think Chana’s comment didn’t haunt me! In the end, my husband blew the shofar for me and the kids, which was really special. And I heard multiple other shofar blasts through my open window—our neighborhood is packed with synagogues.

So it was a wonderful holiday. And throughout it, I thought about my choices, and how personal this beautiful outcome was, how dependent on the specifics of my life and my family. For example:

  •           My morning began at 9:00 every day. One morning my husband took the kids and didn’t wake me; another morning the kids played quietly in their bedroom. And so on.
  •           We own a shofar, and my husband knows how to blow it.
  •           I know the melodies of davening and like to sing by myself.
  •           I have a private roof with beautiful views of the city and room for the kids to run around.
  •           I feel most serene and happy when I can stay in one place and not have to rush around.

So often, I compare my choices to those of other women, other parents. It just doesn’t make any sense to do that. In my community, many women with young children go to shul. In other places, it’s less common. But in any case, what do the social norms really have to do with what’s right for me and my family? I need to think about this more.

* * *

On the first day of Rosh Hashana, my kids danced and sang with me as I davened. And then, as I moved toward the amida, the silent meditation that is the centerpiece of the prayer service, they dispersed and quieted down. How beautiful, I thought. I could tell that they sensed the shift in the mood of my prayer, that a different spirit was filling our home, a spirit of awe and quiet joy and splendor.

They were in my bedroom, of course, batting at my light fixtures with broomsticks. But quietly.

The second day, I was in the middle of the amida again, and I saw, in my peripheral vision, that  B.A. was standing next to the couch with an OPEN honey bottle, contemplating his options. I’m not on a level to keep praying under such circumstances. I hissed “PSSSSSST” at him and held out my hand, and he mercifully brought me the honey. I placed it on the shelf in front of me, where I keep a print of a kabbalistic meditation on God’s name. Sweetness.

* * *

After Rosh Hashana, my mother told me a story from my own childhood. One Yom Kippur morning, when I was five and my sister was a baby, my mother was trying to get us all out the door to go to temple. I wanted to wear a party dress, and Mom didn’t think it was appropriate. So she tangled with me as she tried dress me properly and to impress upon me the solemnity of the day. And ultimately she had to drag a sour kindergartener to temple, and then had to leave when I threw a fit.

I laughed, because I am still that five-year-old—willful, moody and picky about my clothes. And I laughed because now I am that mother as well, trying to wrangle my little pack of children and often overestimating what I can realistically expect from them.

Don’t get me started on the afternoon we all had today. Suffice it to say that I am hiding in my bedroom with B.A., my laptop, and a beer while my husband puts the girls to bed. He’s a good man. B.A. is making me laugh by lipsynching to music he hears in his head, which is why I’m letting him hang around.

* * *

The traditional blessing for this time of year is “a complete good sealing,” that the sweet judgment of Rosh Hashana should be sealed on Yom Kippur. And if we are not so thrilled at our prospects on Rosh Hashana, we have this week to do a spiritual boot camp and get in shape for the year to come. I’ve never felt this more than I do this year. I want to be my best self right now, the self I wish I could be all the time. I want to live that reality and see that it is possible for me to grow, to change.

I wish it for myself and for all of you. A good sealing, and a sweet new year.


Chaya's husband said...

You're a wonderful wife and mother. Thanks for being the spiritual foundation of our family!

Riva said...

What a beautiful post. I wondered how you'd manage to focus on tefillah at home--I can't imagine doing that myself--but how great that you were able to get in the mood, even with your kids milling about! You are so right to make a distinction between what society demands and religion requires.

And, I must confess, I loved your ending. It made me feel better about my own ups and downs w/my kids tonight! Luckily I, like you, have a wonderful, thoughtful husband who can step in to the breach.

Do you have a similar plan in mind for Yom Kippur? Just curious. G'mar Chatima Tova!

pam opper said...

And a peaceful sealing to you and your lovely family, my little girl.

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