T.I.C. transitions

Jew on the Waves of Fate

Archive for the tag “High HolyDays”

And so we enter the year 5773

Rosh HaShanah 5770/2009

And so we enter the year 5773.  What is amusing about that is most people might believe that is the opening line to a science fiction story but to Jews around the world it is no fiction.  We are entering a new year and it is very different from the December 31/January 1 new year.  We definitely celebrate and hope for a joyous and sweet (honey sweet) new year but instead of partying all night we spend our days praying.  It is an important if not slightly foreboding time.  As a very good, non-Jewish friend of mine pointed out, the concept of being inscribed in the book of life on Rosh HaShanah and having your fate for the year sealed a week later on Yom Kippur is kind of scary.   But of course there is a lot more depth to that concept than the Judaism 101 website can impart.

As we approached Rosh HaShanah I thought about all the things I wanted to do differently in the coming year, this is pretty traditional no matter what calendar you’re following, people like to call them new year’s resolutions.  I want to study those languages I’ve let fade, I want to work out more (well…working out at all might be a good start), I want to keep my room clean and organized, manage my time better, eat healthier, be more careful with my money, go to synagogue more often and remember to say a bracha (blessing) before I eat.  Aside from the last two those should not be that far off from a lot of people’s resolutions.

But a key difference between the Jewish new year and the secular new year is that Rosh HaShanah is an intensely spiritual time especially when packaged together with Yom Kippur – a period known as the Yamim Nora’im, the Days of Awe or as my father points out the AWE-full days.  So my desire to go to synagogue more often, to say a bracha before I eat, to recite the Shema daily, those goals carry a greater weight for me during this time.  No Rabbi or fellow member of the tribe has openly criticized my lack of practice or questioned my faith recently (I mean I do wear my yarmulke every day, so everything must be fine right).  But I criticize myself.

I remain very aware of these missed opportunities to be more aware, to express my spirituality, to honor my beliefs and the traditions of a fascinating people, of which I am proud to be a member.  What does my perceived lack of observance say about my professed devotion to my spiritual flavor, the faith-based structure that I was born into and have continually chosen to be the foundation of my spiritual path?  It would be one thing if I was simply not interested in the practice, if the guilt was just some hold over from having gone to synagogue every Friday night and most Saturday mornings as a child but I know it is more than that.

And so as we enter 5773 I brace myself for the wave of spiritual inspiration that comes at this time every year.  It can easily overwhelm and leave me sitting in front of my computer on Shabbos (note I shouldn’t be on my computer on Shabbos), weighed down by the expectations I have placed on myself.  But just as it can overwhelm it can also motivate.  I know the value of embracing that inspiration, I have seen its positive attributes and there is no time in the Jewish calendar when the wave is at its strongest than during the Yamim Nora’im, the days named for the awe they inspire.

Altschul Chapel, Beth Elohim Synagogue, Brooklyn, NY

I encourage anyone who happens to read this to accept this challenge with me.  My parents always taught me, when I became overwhelmed, to just take things one at a time.  Think of all the goals you have – everything from working out to going to your place of worship more often.  Now take one and decide the one thing you will do to begin approaching it.  I do not need to plan to go to synagogue EVERY Friday night, but how about NEXT Friday night.  Will I say Shema every morning?  I don’t know, but I plan to say it tomorrow morning…and I think I want to say it tonight as well.  Will I work out before work every day?  I don’t know, but I will go for a run with my roommate this week.

I am very susceptible to procrastination and becoming so overwhelmed by my desires and goals that I don’t follow through on any of them has become a standard occurrence.  I accept that this is a personal challenge and with that knowledge I would like to channel the inspiration of this time of year toward growth.

Shanah Tovah.

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3…2…1 ATONE!

The Day of Atonement is at hand!  Yikes, ominous phrase.  I prefer my father’s version, the Day of At-ONE-Ment.

The Honey Cake I made for Rosh Hashanah baking

Over time I have begun to feel that Yom Kippur is a day I must get ready for, a day that requires preparation beforehand.  It is always something I was aware of in Judaism but I have felt that need to prepare intensify over time.  This year however (and by year I mean 5772) the preparations have been difficult…as in non-existent.  Unfortunately my school and the High Holy Days do not mesh well (even though I now live in New York City AKA the other Jewish homeland).  I find that as Yom Kippur approaches my mind floods with the actions, inactions, thoughts and conversations that I have come to regret over the year.  Yet before I can open the valve to release them I remember the paper I have not started, the meeting that needs an agenda, the article that I have yet to finish reading or the inboxes (yes multiple) that continue to grow.  On certain Jewish holidays and on Shabbat (Sabbath) it is ideal to eschew all such stressful issues and allow yourself to breathe…but breathing is just too far down on my Google Tasks list.

Perhaps that is the purpose of Yom Kippur; the Day of AtOneMent is the day to release the valve.  As we daven (pray) in our starved and occasionally smelly stupor (I am sorry HaShem [God] but this is how it feels sometimes) perhaps our body and soul’s reaction to this state of being, which includes an excessive amount of standing for those with low to no blood sugar, is that release.  As we allow our bodies to do what they do (otherwise known as bodily functions) we release the regrets we have been holding in.  As our brains lose some of their cognitive force (as a result of starvation, have you picked up on that yet?) so go the grudges that we have been overanalyzing.  As our bodies sway struggling to determine whether they are following the rhythm of the prayers or simply losing their balance perhaps the aches and pains of the year settle.  Yom Kippur is a time to reboot.

Yamim Noraim | Days of Awe

This year I have found myself feeling especially spiritually vulnerable as I truck through the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe, which fill the time between eating apples and honey and salivating when you see dust).  Finding balance is always difficult but for the past couple of weeks it has been an especially elusive goal.  I choose to view these difficulties as a call to embrace the reason HaShem (or whomever you believe did so) granted us this day.

I suppose it may not be appropriate to make ALL of my apologies in this public setting.  However I would like to say that there is a great deal that I know I need to improve on in myself and as I have been on that journey some people are left neglected or hurt.  In the midst of this mildly ‘quippy’ post I would like to offer a sincere sentiment.  I have hurt others, some I know of and some I do not.  I have held on to grudges, which are in fact nasty things that produce nothing positive.  I have hidden and allowed myself to lose sight of what is important.  It is time to strive to keep my eyes open and my awareness sharp.

I hope that this year is what it needs to be for everyone and that we find our footing, achieve our dreams and add some new ones.

Yellow Card! Green Card! Blue Card! White Card!

No, I am not talking about penalties in soccer especially since I had look up “yellow card” to be sure that there was such a thing as penalty cards in soccer.  I am talking about Yom Kippur.  One of the three Jewish holidays most non-Jews are aware of.  This is the day that most know as the “Day of Atonement” and my family prefers to refer to as the “Day of AtONEment.”  Creative right.

Transitions are very important to my people.  We spend the day on Fridays preparing for Shabbat, the Sabbath when we make a separation between all the stresses and weight of the week and a time to focus on yourself.  It is the original weekend.

Rosh Hashanah is the holiday that begins a very important transition for Jews.  We blow the shofar (ram’s horn) on Rosh Hashanah also known as Yom Teruah (Day of the Call or Blast or Clarion depending on the translation).  It begins the Yamim Nora’im (Days of Awe or AWEfull Days) when we try to repent for our mistakes, our missteps over the past year.  The Yamim Nora’im consist of 10 days that end with Yom Kippur.  After Yom Kippur we are supposed to be done focusing on our transgressions from the previous year.

I believe there is a beauty in this.  How many of us are guilty of dwelling obsessively over our various slip-ups?  It is not healthy to fixate on the negative however it must be dealt with at some point.  Therefore Judaism gives the opportunity to deal with our issues and then the chance to let go and move on.  I think this makes a lot of sense.

What do multicolored cards have to do with this?  Growing up in my father’s congregation in Florida we had a particular tradition.  Yellow, green, blue and white index cards were handed out to everyone.  We would then write one or more of our wrongdoings on these cards and each one represented the target of that wrongdoing.

Green = nature
Blue = yourself
Yellow = others
White = God

Here is my attempt at a poem to remember them:

Green is for what the earth has seen,
Blue is for you and Yellow your fellow,
And most difficult to cite
On white the sins against God we write.

Okay, I tried.

These cards would be collected on Rosh Hashanah and some would be read on Yom Kippur.   It was a cathartic way of physically letting go and moving on.  This is important.

With all that said let me apologize to those I have wronged over the past year.  We do what we can to be the best we can be but mistakes happen and people, our planet, our faith, and our ‘self’ can get hurt.  Sometime we are unaware of pain we may cause.  Again I apologize and hope that in the coming year I can grow and learn do my best to help bring about Tikkun Olam (repairing the world).

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