by Carol Blatter (Tucson, AZ)
This year there was an absence of the beautiful aromas which were usually emitted in our kitchen and throughout the house during Rosh Hashanah. There was no chicken soup, no matzah balls, no kugel, no brisket, and no honey cake. Why? I would be dishonest if I said that I had a good excuse. I didn’t.
I found myself less engaged in cooking this year. I wasn’t ready. After the deprivation of social contacts due to the Covid virus for more than fifteen months (and now with the Delta variant), I had lost my usual energy and enthusiasm for the start of this holiday. So we just had an ordinary meal. The sweet tastes on our tongues, the tasty, tangy flavors, and the familiar tastes of combinations of traditional foods we enjoyed with our parents and grandparents at this high holiday were absent.
Lights emanated from the two candles I lit just before sundown. With my husband at my side we said the high holiday prayers which ended with a traditional blessing for reaching this season:
Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, shehecheyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higiyanu laz’man hazeh. Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.
Although our traditional holiday foods were absent this year, we kept our holiday, Rosh Hashanah, the day of remembrance, as it was meant to be observed. We remembered our traditions. We remembered to recite the blessings for wine and bread (challah) before the meal. We remembered to engage in prayer and song with kavanah, with intention, with our rabbi this year (again) virtually. We remembered to reflect on our blessings; we have many. One of our most important blessings is being together as proud, loving mates of fifty-two years.
Over the past two years we have learned to pray wherever we are. We have learned to create a holy space of our own here at home, not the holy space in synagogue which we would have preferred. Our dining room is very warm and attractive with traditional furnishings. We have a gold-framed picture of a rabbi with a long gray beard, with his black head covering, and wearing his white tallit. We have many items of Judaica on the mantle of our fireplace including a unique menorah made in a form called potichomania, an eighteenth-century art form created by Leona M. Fine with reflective colors and designs of blue, greens and golds.
What we lacked was being present in our synagogue. Even wearing our prayer shawls and kippot and wearing dress-up clothes— I wore a very elegant white dress with white cut out designs all around the bottom and my husband in a long-sleeve, light blue shirt and tie with dark pants and a dark blue blazer — it was still difficult to re-create or imitate the aura, the ambiance, the awesome feeling of praying in a holy place, a space designated for prayer, a place of solace, a place of reverence, a place set aside for those moments in our lives when we need to be in touch with God.
In synagogue we pray to the east facing Jerusalem so we prayed to the east in our home. If we were in synagogue we would have seen the Torah scroll rolled out onto the Torah table. We would have had an opportunity to be called for an aliyah, an honor, and ascended to the Torah using the fringes on our tallitot to touch the ancient words of our Torah’s teachings.
With or without COVID, we will never forget who we are. We are Jews. We are the People of the Book. We are the Chosen People, chosen by God to be a light unto the nations. We are linked to thousands of years of Jews who came before us. We will continue to recite our prayers, to observe our customs and traditions, and hand them down to our granddaughter who we hope will hand them down to her children and then to their children and their grandchildren.
And together we prayed for a year of good health and peace in the new year 5782 for all Jews around the world.
Carol J. Wechsler Blatter is a recently retired psychotherapist in private practice. She has contributed writings to Chaleur Press,Story Circle Network Journal and One Woman’s Day; stories in Writing it Real anthologies, Mishearing: Miseries, Mysteries, and Misbehaviors, Pleasure Taken In Our Dreams, Small Things, & Conversations,The Jewish Writing Project, and in101words.org; and poems in Story Circle Network’s Real Women Write,Growing/ Older, and Covenant of the Generations by Women of Reform Judaism She is a wife, mother, and grandmother of her very special granddaughter who already writes her own stories.