Tag Archives: Rosh Hashanah

A Touch of Class, Grace, and Goodness 

by Suzanne Chait-Magenheim (New York, NY)

A funny thing happened on my way to temple this past Rosh Hashanah in my hometown of Manhattan.  I arrived and the synagogue was not there! As I crossed Park Avenue directly in front of what used to be a lavish edifice, I saw it was covered with construction debris and fenced off. Some New Year!  I wanted God to put me in a good place when he wrote in his Book of Life. I did not expect he would put me in the Twilight Zone.

Let me backtrack a little bit.  My husband had his knee replaced three weeks earlier, so we did not take our usual trip to our Florida home to celebrate the High Holy Days where we are members of a Reform temple that my spouse enjoys because of the sincere warmth and musicality of the staff.  Their rhythmic swaying to the music keeps him from dozing off during the service.  Usually.

I was happy to join any temple, Reform or Conservative, as a versatile human being. Although I was raised as a child in the Orthodox tradition (not to be confused with the Chasidic with their long curls, long skirts, and joyful dancing), I could be pragmatic in this case, although the playing of instruments on the Sabbath irked me a little. Being Orthodox as a child meant not being able to cut out my paper dolls on Saturdays.  Not being able to drive to temple.  Dining from “milchig” and “fleishig” dishes (dairy separate from meat}, and using colorful plates on Passover.

Last year, due to other health issues that should not surprise normal seniors, my husband and I took advantage of the reciprocal policy of exchanging holiday tickets between like-minded denominations, a nice honored custom, and we made a contribution to the host synagogue.  So I arranged for the same this year.

I should say here that I used to find the sale of tickets for the High Holy Days offensively expensive. The first time I discovered that tickets were sold for admission so Jews could absolve themselves of sin and thank God for his goodness was years ago in Manhattan. I was 25 and still normally attended my parents’ synagogue in upstate New York on most holidays.  It was 1972, and I tried to attend a neighborhood synagogue sans ticket on Rosh Hashanah, but left sobbing and sputtering, “I can’t believe you would turn away a fellow Jew on the holiest days of the year.”

They would, and could, and did.  They could care less.  I was so financially naïve then.  To learn the greedy ways of the world on Rosh Hashanah was a shock to my young system. But I see now it is how the institutions raise funds to maintain the everyday running of a school and so many other community offerings.

So, it is the morning of Rosh Hashanah in 2017, or 5778 in Jewish years, and, having overslept, I hurriedly dressed, gave my husband his painkillers, ate a quick and proper Weight Watchers 7-point breakfast, and donned a little silk dress and low heels to honor the tradition of dressing up conservatively nice for synagogue. I walked the six blocks as quickly as possible in the slightly uncomfortable but appropriate shoes after a summer of sandals.

When I saw there was no entrance, I started to walk to the next street and telephoned my husband to ask him the address, hoping I had the wrong street. What would I do if I could not begin the year admitting my few sins and asking for forgiveness so my loved ones and I could live another year!

In another block and a half, I thought I had discovered my goal when I saw a bunch of Jews–women in black heels and suits, men in black, blue, or purple yarmulkes and matching talleisim–standing in a line and being asked for tickets.  The five security guards were a definite clue.  I asked if this was the temple I was looking for but was told it was not.  I asked to speak to someone in charge to see if they knew where my missing temple was or if I could possible go to this one.

A lovely gentleman in authority came to the rescue and said the right thing:  “Why don’t you join us? No Jew should be turned away on the High Holy Days!” Bingo! Some of the world had morally evolved in the right direction since 1972.  I thanked this “savior,” so to speak, and profusely offered a contribution, which he said was up to me, and which I mailed a few days later (as my mother had taught me that I was not to handle money on the High Holy days, which I sometimes adhere to).  He handed me a prayer book and guided me to an available seat.

It turned out this was a Conservative temple, which rented extra space for a large congregation on the Jewish holidays.   The room was certainly not beautiful, but it was in an appropriate, large room with the requisite torahs, bima, rabbi, and cantor.  I had arrived just on time to hear the blowing of the shofar, the strange mournful bellow that has many meanings:  welcoming the New Year, calling us to prayer, beseeching God for peace on earth and in Jerusalem, and, of course, welcoming me to this new experience.

As it turned out, it wasn’t so new. I had attended a Conservative synagogue following the Orthodox one at the age of six after moving away from my grandparents, thereby gaining more religious freedom (like the freedom to consume Chinese food and eventually lobster). I had been bat mitzvahed following a year of special study and five years of Hebrew school.  So I was quite comfortable adding my weak soprano voice to the Hebrew melodies I knew well.

I had previously been disappointed that the Reform services had altered the traditional melodies, even “Adon olam.”  In this temple it was back to standing a whole lot when the Torah was removed from the Ark and praying in Hebrew rather than in an English responsive reading, as was prevalent in the Reform temple.  This temple reminded me of the days I couldn’t wait to join my Dad in melodious prayer at the conclusion of the Yom Kippur service as the tedious fast ended before returning home to lox and bagels, tuna fish salad, scrambled eggs, herring, and chocolate milk for me.

At this new service, people pleasantly smiled at me as we exchanged a few words.  I felt at home and quite comfortable.  As the rabbi began his sermon, he spoke of the greeting “L’Shana Tova” which means not “happy new year,” but a “good new year.”  This was his opening to discuss the importance of showing goodness and virtue to our community.  He suggested that the oldest people in the world lived in communities for good fellowship and friendship and lots of socializing.  Daily friendships are more important than large, loving families …”in another state!” Dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine and other chemicals in the body have been tested to prove this, he said.

My attendance was such a perfect example of what he spoke of, and I was grateful for the way that his little Jewish community had welcomed me into their ‘flock,” so to speak.  I read some prayers to myself in English that I found meaningful and touching.  I was comfortable in this little “shtetl.”  Sometimes Fate, your appointment in Samara, (or could it be Divine Intervention?) is a lovely thing blessed with goodness and kindness.

A few days later, so that I would know where I was to go on Yom Kippur, I walked back to the original temple that I had been seeking.  It had occurred to me that the entrance was in the back, not easily visible or accessible from the street.  And so, it was.  To which, I say: “Let there be light”…..or at least a visible sign!

Thankfully, I was not abandoned to roam the dusty streets of Manhattan for 40 years.

Before becoming a “snowbird” in Florida, Suzanne Chait-Magenheim, LCSW, lived most of her adult life in Manhattan. A graduate of Skidmore College, she became a psychotherapist with a private practice as a clinical social worker and with psychoanalytic certification.  Her recent poem, “56 Years” appears online at the Alzheimer’s Association website.  A few years ago, she wrote, edited, and photographed a monthly government newsletter, School Health Highlights.

 

 

 

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Rosh Hashana, 5778

by Richard Epstein (Washington, DC)

It’s Indian Summer.  My Thai wife
brought home matzah ball soup
for the evening meal.  In the morning,
I woke to the aroma of matzah brie
on the kitchen stove.

She knows, with strawberry jam,  I will
eat all she can make.  As I type this,
I hear an interview with Warren Buffett
somewhere in the background.

This year, I have ignored Rosh Hashanah.
At least, I thought I did, until now.
But like Warren Buffett, Rosh Hashana
plays somewhere in the background.

I hear a ram’s horn call out its warning:
Wake up!  Prepare! To clear my thoughts
I went for a walk in the woods along Sligo Creek.

I saw a young man dressed in black standing
in the middle of a narrow footbridge reading
from a prayer book.  As I passed, he dropped
a handful of bread crumbs into the stream.

Long ago, a holy man dressed in white
would lead a goat into the desert to freedom.
A ritual or cure?  But, like wiping chalk writing
from a blackboard, a residue remains.

For Rosh Hashana, I was taught to examine
past actions and deeds. Define the behaviors
that be best cast off and those to save.

With defiance, pye weed, goldenrod and asters
shout a last hurrah. The tall grasses bow
to the shortening of days and impending cold.

Like Indian summer, I prepare myself for change
in this grand parade.  I reflect back, then forward
to another year.

Richard Epstein lives in the Washington DC area and is active in the Warrior Poets sponsored by Walter Reed Medical Center, the Veterans Writing Project and he hosts an open mic venue for veterans and friends of veterans on the National Mall.

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Questions for My Mother

by Janet R. Kirchheimer (New York, NY)

What if
that afternoon instead of making love
in the sewing room you’d
cooked in the kitchen
perfecting what would become
your family’s famous zucchini bread recipe or
what if
you and Daddy had just talked?

What if
you decided that afternoon
to read a book instead,
and what was it
made you decide to make love
the second day of Rosh HaShanah
and that makes us toast my conception each year

with champagne? Would I
have turned out differently or would I
have received someone else’s fate if I
had been conceived at another moment?

Would the angel in charge of conception still have
placed the same drop of semen before the Holy One
and asked, Master of the universe what
is to happen to this drop?

Janet R. Kirchheimer is the author of How to Spot One of Us, poems about her family and the Holocaust.  Her recent work has appeared in The Poet’s Quest for God and is forthcoming in Forgotten Women.  Janet is currently producing AFTER, a cinematic film about Holocaust poetry.  https://www.facebook.com/AfterAPoetryFilm/

This poem is reprinted from Kalliope, where it first appeared, with the kind permission of the author.

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Semitic Semantics

by Gelia Dolcimascolo (Atlanta, GA)

On the day before Rosh Hashanah
I do nothing
to commemorate
the start of the New Year.

The Orthodox Jewish teenager
from across the cul-de-sac
greets me with her laptop, some papers,
and a question mark on her face.

We sit side-by-side in my dining room,
like two candles, backs to the cabinet
which holds my parents’ menorah
and the book I am reading, Unorthodox.

We work out rhyme schemes
for odes and ballads,
discuss the rhythm of heartbeats.
A smile replaces the question mark.

On Rosh Hashanah
I celebrate
by dancing
at the ballet studio.

That night my Episcopalian neighbor
joins us for dinner at our house.
With a wink of his eye, he says I’m not a Jew
simply because I don’t “practice the faith.”

We wrestle over that one.
My fists clench in faux anger;
I straighten him out,
defend my right to the tribe.

Gelia Dolcimascolo, an award-winning poet, is a writing tutor at Georgia State University Perimeter College. Her poems have been published in journals, anthologies, and books, including Heart by Heart: Mothers and Daughters Listening to Each Other; Through a Distant Lens; The Art of Music; and Haiku Pix Review. Her novella, Aurelia and the Library of the Soul, a nominee for the Georgia Author of the Year Award (GAYA), was published in 2016. Born in South Africa, she grew up in Queens, New York, and lived with her husband and daughter in California. She considers herself a “nostalgic” (secular) Jew and enjoys her cultural heritage at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. Her website is www.geliawrites.com

About her poem, “Semitic Semantics,” she writes that it “reflects my views as a non-religious Jew. I sometimes find myself defending my cultural heritage while isolated from mainstream Judaism – an existential dilemma. The poem takes place in Atlanta, roughly a decade ago.”

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Poem and Direction of the Heart for the Tenth Day of T’shuvah

By Marcia Falk (Berkeley, CA)

In her new book, The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season, renowned poet Marcia Falk re-creates key prayers and rituals in poetic forms from a contemporary perspective for those in search of a contemplative approach to the High Holidays. Here is an excerpt:

What Do You Have?

Not this earth, not even dust—
Not yours, caw invisible crows
like doors swinging shut.

Not your memories, rising
and burning in the air
like leaf-dew in sun.

Not your thoughts, poking in
and darting out
like hummingbirds in the blossoms.

Only this bit of time (like clouds unforming)—
even as you point to it,
gone.

Nothing

Nothing. You began as nothing and you will end as nothing. And in between—everything, and nothing. In between—joy and sorrow, beauty and decay. Everything yours to partake of, yours to bear. Yours to see, to know, to give birth to—and to let go. None of it yours to have.

Not even you are yours to have. You belong to a wholeness so great you cannot even conceive of it.

No, it is not a belonging; nothing owns you. You are simply part of it. You came out of it and you will return to it. You do not ever leave it, you are part of it forever.

And this is your moment to be alive.

Marcia Falk was born in New York City and raised on Long Island in a Conservative Jewish home. She received a B.A. in philosophy magna cum laude from Brandeis University and a Ph.D. in English and comparative literature from Stanford.  A university professor for fifteen years, she taught Hebrew and English literature, Jewish studies, Bible, and creative writing at Stanford, the State University of New York at Binghamton, and the Claremont Colleges. Her classic verse translation of the biblical Song of Songs was released in 2004 in a new edition, The Song of Songs: Love Lyrics from the Bible (Brandeis University Press).

For more information about her work, visit: http://marciafalk.com/

The material posted here is excerpted from The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season By Marcia Falk (HBI Series on Jewish Women, Brandeis University Press) and reprinted with permission of the author and publisher.

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Sarah Laughed

by Natalie Zellat Dyen (Huntington Valley, PA)

Sarah laughed
When God said she’d bear a son.
Sarah, her skin a road map of her life.
What pleasure is possible? she asked,
For one as old as I?
What good can come
From this time? This body?
Impossible
And later
Holding impossible in her arms
Sarah laughed once again.

And what of you
Whose path runs long and deep into the forest?
Too late to turn, you say.
Too old.
What if I fail?
To you I say
Listen to Sarah’s laughter
To the possibility of laughter.
To the words in your heart,
Not in your head
The words that say
Anything is possible.

Natalie Zellat Dyen is a freelance writer and photographer living in Huntingdon Valley, PA. Her work has appeared in Philadelphia Stories, The Willow Review, Global Woman Magazine, Intercom Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Schuylkill Valley Journal, Wordhaus, and other newspapers and journals. She has just completed her first novel. Links to Natalie’s published work are available at http://www.nataliewrites.com.

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The Tent Connection

by Ronni Miller (Sarasota, FL)

“and it came to pass that everyone that sought the Lord went out into the tent of Meeting…” Exodus 33:7

When I first moved to rural Woodstock in the ‘80’s, I had just barely shed my role as a suburban New Jersey divorced wife and single mother. My three children had sprung the nest and were ensconced in colleges of their choices all over the country. What I discovered in the isolated, eclectic pine cabin that I had built, ringed by fields of hay and mountains, was the fledgling connection to myself and to my life as a writer. It would take many years for me to reinvent myself, and during that time, while adapting to the culture of fading hippies, I felt an intuitive connection to the Jewish services that were held nearby under a tent.

Discovering services down the road from the cabin and under the tent was, at first, daunting, even uncomfortable. I had been raised to be proper and staid, reflective and sorrowful in silence inside a proper temple of brick and mortar, and I tried to duplicate that kind of Jewish experience for my own children as I raised them. But my connection to a spiritualism beyond the words that I mouthed in English and Hebrew in that environment was watery at best. What I began to discover under the tent was an inner connection, a physicality of feeling that I had no words to express. Singing, smiling, even laughing and feeling a lightness of spirit, at first felt wrong at such a holy time, but gradually this way of celebrating became the norm that I yearned to experience. I felt connected to something ancient, and I was proud to be a part of such a bond. Yet by the following year when it was time to make plans to return, I again questioned the sincerity of my action.

When I sold my cabin of wood and glass in Woodstock, NY, packed my quilt, books and computer, and moved south for sun and warmth, I felt the need to make a pilgrimage north each fall to re-experience the interaction of a Judaism that spoke to me of ancient connections and rhythms, a living energy that mingled psychological, philosophical, literary and religious themes in a meaningful way that I had never experienced before in any other synagogue of stone walls and stained glass windows. It became an annual ritual that provided a beginning for the New Year, a ritual that helped me understand where I was in my life at the time, as well as shining a light ahead that would help illuminate my path when I had to return to my home in the south and cope with everyday realities.

That first year, as I drove north on the highway, I thought of Rabbi Jonathan who played his guitar as we sang and danced on the earthen floor. The Woodstock Jewish Congregation Kehillat Lev Shalem is, as their motto says, “the congregation of a full heart.” It is “an egalitarian congregation whose members range from cultural atheists to traditional Jews,” says Rabbi Jonathan Kliger, who was trained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, served as spiritual leader under the tent for twenty-six years, and is now Senior Scholar of the Lev Shalem Institute, a center for learning, creativity, healing, and spiritual growth located at the Woodstock Jewish Congregation. Was I returning for this experience alone, and how did that connect to the religiosity of a new year?

I’ve struggled for two decades to understand the true reason for my annual pilgrimage to the tent for High Holiday services. I know I’m seeking a connection, but a connection to what? Even though I celebrate Shabbat each week by lighting the candles and saying the prayers over the bread and the wine, I feel at times like I’m going through the motions for the sake of tradition. So I drive the twenty-five hundred mile trip alone, from Sarasota, FL to Woodstock, NY, searching for something deeper. And I look forward to the experience of emotional freedom and, if only temporary, a spiritual connection while sitting on a metal folding chair on the earth, sheltered from the elements by a white canvas tent, surrounded by fifteen hundred like-minded strangers.

In my struggle to define the truth for this rite of return, questions pile on questions. Is it just nostalgia to return to a place that had once been my home at a crossroads in my life? Is it the novelty of celebrating the High Holidays under a tent with dancing and singing instead of with the austerity and solemnity encased by stained glass windows? Is it because I desire to be included in a community that welcomes all people, Jewish or not, straight, gay, single and married, a community that openly acknowledges the power of expressing feelings and emotions? Is it because I need to confirm the person I reinvented — or began to reinvent — in this mountain community of artists where individualism is recognized, not scorned?

On reflection, I can say, yes, definitely, it is nostalgic to remember every thread and every morsel of a new life that I had made for myself in a rural rather than suburban environment, and where bear, deer and pheasant were my neighbors instead of people.  It was where an eclectic cabin of pine with wide board floors and two story glass windows, surrounded by pasture and mountains, held treasured memories of a home I had built to declare both my choice of aesthetics, as well as my personal independence as a newly unmarried woman with three grown children.  Yes, it had been exciting to continue to create my fiction in this cabin, which overlooked undulating fields of hay, as well as inspiring to recall the birth of the writing program that has sustained me financially on my future path.

This quest for connection on a deep level is a pervasive theme in my life, as well as in my fiction writing, and it is the power of this quest that draws me to the tent each year.  The tent is where I feel the ancient and the modern connect.  A few children and grandchildren have joined me over the years, and for a few hours it feels like we are home again, a family under one roof. We stand before the bimah to receive a blessing before the Torah is opened. Together we hear the shofar blown, the children standing on metal folding chairs to see over the adults’ heads, or astride their father’s shoulders.

I am on a new chapter in my life now as a widow after twenty years of a second marriage. In the past I haven’t been swayed by practicality. Imagination and desire have always trumped reality. Yet I know that this rite of return helps me feel cleansed and inspired to begin a new year. The service under the tent strengthens my religiosity and my spiritualism, and, after it’s over, I know I’ll carry these feelings, along with the words from Rabbi Jonathan’s sermons, in my heart and mind as I drive south again over interstate highways from the Catskill Mountains, past the low country of the Carolina’s, and into the flat terrain beside the Gulf of Mexico.  This ritual of ebb and flow, this traveling up and back, comforts me. It provides a beginning for the year, a meaningful way for me to mark a distinction between the endings and beginnings in my life.

Ronni Miller, author of Dance With The Elephants: Free Your Creativity And Write and Cocoon To Butterfly: A Metamorphosis of Personal Growth Through Expressive Writing, among other published books, is an award winning fiction author and founder and director of Write It Out®, a motivational and expressive writing program for individuals of all ages since 1992.  She teaches and lectures in the US, facilitates writing retreats in Tuscany and Cape Cod, and writes about her Jewish roots, feelings, memories and experiences in published books, short stories, essays, poems and plays for children and adults. In her private practice as a Book Midwife, she helps people birth their books. See www.writeitout.com for more information. 

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