The Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, in 100 words
In print

Happy holidays!

Shanah tovah (a good year) and Ramadan mubarak (a blessed Ramadan) to you! This year, for the first time since 1967, the Jewish holy month of Tishri (which contains within it the Days of Awe as well as the festivals of Sukkot, Hoshana Rabbah and Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah) overlaps with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Today is also the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. (Here's a nifty essay about that conjunction of holy times, which some are calling "God's October Surprise.") May the confluence of sacred moments enrich us all with blessings.

I've had a wonderful Rosh Hashanah so far.

Last night we gathered a tableful of family members for a festive meal. First we sat on the deck in the twilight and savored pita, hummus, and some of our own pickles as hors d'oeuvres; eventually we sat down at the table and blessed candles, wine, bread, and the passage of time. Our meal included some of the tastes of my childhood (big spiral challah, and slices of apple, dipped in honey) and some tastes that have come to be traditional in our home (a Moroccan-influenced chicken stew over fruited couscous, and a Finnish salad of grated root vegetables and apples) though I daresay the combination wasn't mimicked on anyone else's holiday table.

After dinner I taught my sister and my oldest niece one of the short variations on the birkat ha-mazon (Grace After Meals) that we sing at Elat Chayyim -- it's a round that interweaves one line of Talmud ("Brich rachamana, malkah d'alma, marai d'hai pita"/"Blessed is the Compassionate One, Ruler of the universe, source of this food") and an English variant ("You are the Source of Life for all that is, and your blessing flows through me.") My younger niece and nephew banged out impromptu drum accompaniment. And then we adjourned for honeycake, rugelach and apple cake, tea and whiskey, and chess. (Photos from the evening, for those who are interested, are here.)

Services today were lovely. This year there were instruments, which made me happy; our usual visiting cantor brought her guitar, and a fellow congregant played her quattro. The instruments somehow simultaneously added energy to our music-making, and toned down the high-pomp vibe I sometimes get from High Holiday services. I groused about that vibe in my second blog post ever; though I've come to enjoy the fact that we have a special nusach (melody system) for the Days of Awe, and I find that learning about the liturgy makes me feel increasingly involved in (and connected to) it, I still sometimes feel distanced by the performative quality of High Holiday services. They can feel like kabuki -- stylized gestures, meant for a big crowd -- and that challenges me. But the stringed instruments helped me to find real joy in my davvening, which was great.

Toward the end of the service, the fellow tasked with hagbah (lifting the Torah scroll, partially-unfurled, to show it to the congregation) wobbled and for a moment it looked like the scroll might be in danger of falling. Thank goodness others were nearby to steady him; otherwise the resonance of Tishri and Ramadan coinciding might have been doubled! (Those who witness a Torah falling to the ground are obligated to fast for forty days. Not forty nights; as in the Ramadan fast, one can eat before dawn and after sunset. But as much as I celebrate the holy overlaps of between Ramadan and the Days of Awe -- both emphasize prayer and teshuvah, and believers understand the gates of heaven to be especially open at these times -- I can't say I would relish the forty-day fast.) All's well that ends well, though. Whew.

Anyway, I wish you all a holiday season filled with insight, connection, and meaning. Happy new year! May 5766 be a blessing for us all.

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