Rosh Hashanah: holding on, letting go
September 16, 2007
It is the day which will become the eve of Rosh Hashanah. My mother and I are cooking together, a rare occurrence; I had little interest in cooking until after I had left home, so we never did this when I was growing up. I shape loaves of challah, round like the cycle of the year. She slices zucchini, minces parsley and mint, and tells stories about my grandparents. When we gather family around the long table, set with the silver my mother chose in 1954, she lights candles and I make kiddush and together we all sing blessings over bread and over the first fruits of local apple trees.
And now it is morning and we are sitting in the sanctuary of my little shul -- which feels almost like a big shul, today; the folding wall has accordioned to the edges of the building, and the whole grand semicircle is filled with people -- and I am flooded by awareness of what a blessing it is to be davening beside my parents on Rosh Hashanah for the first time in fifteen years.
As I hear my parents singing beside me, time collapses. I am walking with them into the big domed Reform temple in San Antonio on a hot September day, all dressed up, carrying my tallit bag proudly under my arm. No: we are sitting on folding chairs at the JCC attending services at the nascent Reconstructionist congregation in town, and the young bearded rabbi has just turned toward the makeshift ark to lead us in prayer, which he is chanting -- to my amazement -- in English as though it were Hebrew. No: I am running around the Conservative shul of my earliest childhood, looking for friends to play with, as the voice of the hazzan reverberates over the loudspeakers into the back of the building...
Some part of me wonders, even as I follow the davening in the pages of our machzor, what it will be like someday to remember, "that was the year Mom and Dad came to the Berkshires for Rosh Hashanah." Or maybe "that was the first year" -- maybe we're inaugurating a new family tradition; there's no way to know until time passes. Still, this will always have been the first time.
There's a feeling I associate with mincha time on Shabbat, as afternoon begins to shift toward evening. It's a simultaneous wash of gratitude for the sweetness of Shabbat, and sorrow because the day is already on its way out. It's a kind of full-body, full-heart "I'm so glad you're here; don't go!" But of course it's always already going. Shabbat -- the summer -- the holiday -- the long-anticipated visit -- always already flowing into the river of things past, and there's no holding on. All I can do is savor it while it's here, and be grateful even for the ache of letting go.
Technorati tags: religion, Judaism, RoshHashanah.