notes on Rosh Hashanah from Not a Very Good Jewish Wife

Posted: October 4, 2016 in Uncategorized

I’m just getting home from a trip to Skokie for my first celebration of Rosh Hashanah in the synagogue.  The fact that I missed this until now in 3 years of our marriage is on a long list of reasons why I tend to feel like Not a Very Good Jewish Wife, but in this case that’s mostly just me allowing condemnation to have its little party without resistance on my part.  Our first Rosh Hashanah, G was new at his really terrible job, and couldn’t have gotten away at all.  The second, he was still pretty new at his much better job, and we had to use his PTO hours carefully, so we just went to Yom Kippur services, which happened to fall on his day off.  Last year I was having a crazy month at work and couldn’t get away for anything, so G went to Yom Kippur without me, but didn’t make Rosh Hashanah (maybe he had to work; I don’t remember).  Living 4 hours from the synagogue does complicate these things a bit!

I knew that I might be surprised at how the Rosh Hashanah service touched me. When I had gone to Yom Kippur with him two years ago, fully expecting it to be a long, dreary, overly liturgical day without a lot of meaning to me, I came away stunned.  Despite the fact that the heat didn’t work properly in the building that day and I was cold to the point of mostly-can’t-think all day, and despite my general discomfort in trying to understand all things Jewish (most especially the rapid cadence with which the English portions are read, which is generally about 3 times faster than I want to go), that day was flooded with meaning and worship.  It readjusted my ideas about the value of corporate repentance.  It spoke to me on very deep levels, and my only real regret for the day was we both wanted to be in church the next day, so when the big feast/party complete with Elvis impersonators broke out, we had to get in our car and make the long drive back home.  I resolved that in the future we’d schedule differently, making a plan to spend the night with our JPUSA family so that we could party as late as we wanted.  That’s the plan for next week.

Some of you are wondering what Rosh Hashanah is.  To give my extremely non-expert answer:  it is the Jewish new year.  We have now begun the year 5777.  I learned today in a podcast on the drive home that not a lot is prescribed in scripture about what needs to happen for this event, other than noting it with the blowing of the shofar.

The service was a lot like the usual service we attend on the occasional Saturday that we can manage, as far as I could tell, other than the blowing of the shofar.  Scripture/liturgy read and sung in both Hebrew and English, which I generally interpret as prayer.  The Torah coming out of the ark and being taken around the room and then put away, more than once.  Reading from that same Torah scroll at other points.  It was some different readings, and some the same.  I did note that I felt less harried by the pace of the scriptures read in English – I have no idea if someone slowed down, or maybe I’m starting to get a little more comfortable at this stuff.

But while it was very much “the same” in some ways, it was also really special and set apart in ways that are hard for me to attach language to.  Several of the readings hit me so profoundly that I struggled to keep moving forward with the service.  I was tearing pieces off of my bulletin to mark pages so I could go back and make notes after the service, as there was no time during.  My thoughts wanted to go back and linger long on some of what we read, most especially that bit from the book of Numbers 15 that admonishes that we “not follow the desires of your heart or your eyes, that lead you astray,” but rather follow the Lord’s ways.  That scripture was wildly alive to me in a way in that moment that always gives me goosebumps and often makes me check out of all else to just tarry there.

At one point we did a responsive reading of Psalm 136, with the congregation reading the phrase “His mercy endures forever,” over and over.  Only the whole thing was happening in Hebrew.  So our part was “ki l’olam hasdo.”  As we read, it occurred to me: Jesus himself read this aloud in the temple, and people of faith across all generations have done so, in this very language.  What I am pronouncing, they have pronounced.  What I am meditating on, they have meditated on.  In that moment I felt my connection to the larger body of faith so keenly that it wrecked me, and I had no desire to halt the tears that came.  Probably the profundity of it is lost in the telling.  I can only say it was a holy moment for me.

The other thing that knocked me clear out of myself was the actual sounding of the shofar.  It isn’t blown just once.  It is blown A LOT of times, at different points in the service, with the final round being (I think) 40 “blows” without a break.  There are I think 5 different kinds of “blow,” (I feel in danger of being offensive by even describing it as such, but remember, I am Not a Very Good Jewish Wife, and I’m trying to learn, so please don’t be offended – just accept me as clueless but well-intentioned) which are each different in length and cadence.  Each type is called out first in word and then with sound.  It goes on and on.

I knew I’d like it, in a “musical” or “this is just different” kind of way.  I know myself well enough to guess that.  What I didn’t expect was what I experienced when they did what seemed to be the most rare one, the last, which is so long you think the dude blowing is gonna fall over and faint.  The closest I can come to approaching it with words is that it felt like the barrier between the physical realm and the spiritual was the thinnest I have ever experienced.  It was kind of an out-of-body experience.  Way trippy.  I didn’t want to leave afterward.  I wanted to demand like a child that they do it again.

Overall, the message of the entire day (in my opinion) was a shouted repetition of the truth that God loves us wildly, lavishly, and beyond what we can begin to understand.

Afterward, we had lunch as always (it looks to me like our synagogue never gathers without dining together, and I really like that in spite of my introvert aversion to so much social pressure), and then we were given a little program for a “Tashlich Service,” and told we could join the group going to the river, or do it on our own at any body of living water.  We took the train back to our JPUSA home neighborhood and made a beeline for the shore of Lake Michigan for that.

It’s a little commemoration, entirely appropriate to the beginning of a year, of the truth that God will “cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”  We read some stuff and sang some stuff and tossed stones into the water as a visual reminder.  With my weak throwing arm and bad aim, my little stones barely made it to the water (one didn’t even), which seemed to me an especially appropriate reminder that on my own on this front, I am flat out of luck.  It’s a wonderful thing to get to depend on Christ in this, and the reminder was precious.

I don’t know if you’re even a smidgen more enlightened about Rosh Hashanah after reading this, but I’ve enjoyed sharing.  Really, really, REALLY looking forward to Yom Kippur next week.  Maybe I’ll describe it more clearly for ya later.  Or maybe not.

  1. Cindy Maynard says:

    I’ve been gathering with some ladies who are sharing with us about the Jewish calendar, the feasts and the months, the celebrations. Fascinating! And when you share it enlightens me all the more. God is simply amazing! The whole puzzle, piece by piece begins to fit together in my mind and I become awe-struck. The sounding of the shofar is hair-raising (in a good way). It awakens something within. I know very little but am intrigued and interested! Thanks for sharing!

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