Friday, September 22, 2017

5778- l'shana tovah

Wednesday night began, for those in my tribe, a period of introspection.  It was the start of the new year.

I had a traditional erev Rosh Hashanah meal. (Erev means-night of, Rosh-means head, ha-the, shanah year).  But before that, because of the new world of new media, I received dozens of new year's greetings from friends.  It was good to get these notes. All those who pooh pooh the internet and social media ought to give it a try.   It was warming to read well wishes from those whom I likely would not have heard from had I not been connected to them electronically.

It is traditional to dip an apple into honey to begin the year, as a symbol of a sweet year.  So I dipped the apple, and then a piece of challah in the honey, said some prayers that I have somehow retained through the years and ate an unusually full meal.  It was pretty much just what my folks did during the years when I was growing up.

The next day I went to, of all places, an orthodox synagogue. I did this not because I have become orthodox--far from it--but because I like the shape of the temple.  Rather bizarre reason I know.  I live within a two minute drive from Brandeis University. There, there are several services going on during the high holy days. The orthodox building is the smallest, but I find the most attractive. It is shaped like a triangle.

I did not want to attend an entire orthodox service.  I find myself uncomfortable in these because, as my father used to say, these guys are all in business for themselves.  They all are chanting and know what they are doing. I typically need leadership to tell me what page we are on, and require some interpretation by a rabbi.

Not only did I not attend for the entire service, I got there after--by accident--the service had concluded. It had just ended.  What was happening when I arrived was that people were practicing blowing the shofar. A young man approached me, wished me a happy new year, and asked if I wanted to try blowing the shofar.  I declined, but appreciated the warm welcome.  He introduced himself as the rabbi for this group which startled me because really the guy looked younger than my nephew.  Then another young man came over and wished me a happy new year.  It was so sweet.  I asked if I could sit in the sanctuary and the rabbi said by all means.  So, I sat there for about an hour or so thinking about things that one ought to think about when you are assessing how well you did on the most recent revolution around the sun.

After this period of meditation, I started reading the introduction to the prayer book.  I typically don't read the introduction to prayer books. I show up. The rabbi tells me what page they are on, and I read the English translation to the Hebrew.  But this time I read the introduction.

It was a riot. The author was all but besmirching authors of other siddurs explaining why this one was better. The others translate poorly. The others use language that is antiquated. The others are sloppy. And my favorite line and one I am glad I read in an empty sanctuary because I burst out laughing was one where the authors wrote that in the other books there is poor proofreading and some books have inaccurate spellings and incorrect (so help me) grammEr.  Yes, while whining about sloppiness the author spelled grammar incorrectly.

Still the siddur's introduction aside I felt good about my time in the sanctuary and found it refreshing.  I went home and decided to end the day by going to Walden Pond.  There is a part of rosh hashanah where congregants go to a body of water and cast bread crumbs into it symbolizing throwing bad behaviors away.  We never did this as a kid because it is an orthodox thing to do. The rabbi had told me that the congregation was going to do this at a local pond. I figured I would go to Walden Pond because some congregation would be using it for this ceremony.

Nobody was.  I was there and there were others at the pond, but I saw no group of congregants.  I brought a chair and a book so I sat peacefully by the water again assessing how I thought I stacked up on this most recent lap around the track.  And then the best part of the day happened. That which made this rosh hashanah most memorable.  Readers may think nothing of it, but I think a lot of it.

I was still wearing my tie and suit jacket from my trip to the orthodox temple, but I had removed my yarmulka (skull cap) and had taken off my suit pants replacing it with more comfortable jeans.  An announcement came out over the loudspeaker saying that the pond would close in twenty minutes.  I sat for a few more minutes going through my last year and talking to my loved ones--those now gone and those still with us.  Then I yanked my chair up and walked up the hill to the lot where my car was.

As I walked into the lot, I noticed a young woman walking toward me.  I had my specs on and thought I might know who she was.  She smiled at me as we approached. But as we got close I realized I did not know her.  Still she kept smiling.  And as we walked past, I said to this person younger than my nephew, something like hello.  Her response startled me. "L'Shana Tova" she said. A good year.  I stopped and returned the greeting, and said, "how did you know?" She said "you've got a tie on".

Well, I guess, since I was coming from a beach area that might have been a give-away, but still I found this greeting from a complete stranger, out of context from any synagogue, like a sweet breath of fresh air.

What would be so wrong with this world, if we all, regardless of day wished strangers a happy new year.  Today and yesterday are the beginnings of the Jewish new year, but every day is the beginning of a new year.  And it would not be such a terrible thing for people always to say to strangers, L'shana Tovah.  Have a good year.

No comments:

Post a Comment