Marveling at how the evening's storms gave way to an incredible glow of post-storm late-evening light. Making havdalah and then singing the songs of Selichot with my community on the Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah. With my mother present, too -- an extra-special gift, to see her there in our small sanctuary, looking impeccably-put-together, and enthusiastic about experiencing Selichot at our sweet smalltown shul. (It's a bit more formal where she usually goes.) That night I got to play my new guitar, and to debut my beautiful new white High Holiday tallit. The feel of the fabric and the wood under my fingers. The way my heart settles back into the well-worn groove of these words and these melodies. As Elul draws toward its close, this is the first real step on the High Holiday journey.
Sitting on the floor of the sanctuary with our visiting cantorial soloist (rabbinic student David Curiel) and his wife Amberly and their almost-one-year-old daughter, on the day which would become erev Rosh Hashanah. It was midafternoon, a few hours before the holiday, and we had just rehearsed a few melodies, and we caught a moment together to play with the baby and just be together before the festival began. The synagogue was empty except for us. The chairs were all set up, beams of sunlight poured through the windows, and everything seemed to vibrate with silent anticipation.
Joining my family for a festive meal Rosh Hashanah services on the eve of the first day of Rosh Hashanah. We sang the usual round of blessings for candles, wine, challah, apples. And then as we were about to move on to dinner, our son piped up, "Mommy! You forgot to bless ME!"
Of course: every Shabbat he receives the priestly blessing after we bless candles, wine, and challah. How could he have known that this is a Shabbat custom and not a Rosh Hashanah one? Nu: a new family custom was born on the spot. I placed my hands on his head and gave him kisses as I offered the blessing he knows so well. Let him begin the new year, as he begins every Shabbat, knowing that he is blessed and that he is loved.
Interstitial time: hanging out with my family at the house my parents rented in Williamstown. Sitting on the deck with my parents and with my sister and her family, watching my son play with her kids, enjoying fabulous chopped liver on good wholegrain crackers (our son preferred the crackers plain) and sipping white wine in the beautiful cool northern Berkshire late summer evening. Having the spaciousness to just be together, talking about everything under the sun.
Standing with our hazzan before the open ark at the start of Ne'ilah, the closing service. We had just spent five minutes making wordless niggunim out of many of the melodies of the Days of Awe, as people came up before the open ark to quietly whisper whatever they most needed to say to God. Then I put down my guitar and we moved into the closing stretch of the final service, which began with the final repetition of the Thirteen Attributes.
The lights were off: the room was lit only by the ark lights, the flickering yahrzeit candles, and the setting sun. I had just reconciled myself to the fact that though it had been a beautiful holiday, and I could feel that we had done a good job of leading davenen and channeling what we wanted to channel, it seemed that I wasn't going to get my own intense experience of connection with God. In that moment, I was okay with that.
And then we started singing "Adonai, Adonai, merciful and compassionate," and I closed my eyes, and suddenly I was weeping as I sang. My whole heart broken right open. God, God, full of mercy and compassion! Even in our worst moments, the times when all we can feel is failure and sorrow, God's endless mercy and compassion are open to us. I can't quite verbalize it now. But it opened my heart right up. And I was so grateful. I feel so blessed.
Breaking my fast, as has become my custom, the way my grandfather Eppie used to do: with a nip of ice-cold vodka. One of my congregants (the one who leyns Jonah, blows shofar, and arranges our break-the-fast) brought the bottle of Absolut forth from the shul freezer and we raised our wee cups. "To the memory of your grandfather," he offered, "and the memory of mine, too." Nasdrovie! The liquid was cold fire going down; it spread to my fingertips, warming me. And then a few other congregants came up to me during the break-the-fast, asking, "where's the vodka in memory of your grandfather?" (So I brought it out of the kitchen and into the social hall, where others partook as they so chose.) That warmed me, too: the realization that this community which never knew Eppie thinks of him now every year as Yom Kippur ends, as do I.