In my Judaic religion - it is that time of year known as the high holy days. It begins with Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish new year..and ends 10 days later with Yom Kippur – the day of atonement.
Altho I would not consider myself to be religious by any stretch of anyone’s imagination..I did grow up in a family and community where tradition reigned and ruled. These holidays were marked both by prayer and by large family gatherings all centered around the meal. Apples were passed around the table and dipped in honey. The apple – a symbol of life’s endless cycle and nature’s ability to renew and restore. The honey – a part of the wish for a sweet new year. My grandmother’s house - where we all convened - filled my senses. The sound of family. The comforting and familiar tastes and smells of chicken soup and brisket… fresh baked challah …and always of sweet wine.
On Rosh Hashanah we eat and celebrate. On Yom Kippur we fast and atone. On Rosh Hashanah we go to synagogue and pray for our names to be inscribed in a book that will determine our destiny. Who will live. Who will die. Who will suffer. And who will not. On Yom Kippur we return to synagogue and make our final plea for forgiveness for all of our human transgressions and sins. It is on this day – the solemnest of all days - that the book is said to be sealed..our fate determined and fixed.
As a child – I celebrated these holidays as a part of my family. It’s what we all did in our community...at this time of year. Altho the hours spent in synagogue were trying for an impatient young child..they held a certain sense of security..in their familiar annual ritual and rite. Generations of families – year after year – seated together. Women on the right. Men on the left. Babies grew into children..children into adults..adults returning with children of their own…and sadly and always – the empty chairs.
As a questioning adolescent – I began to challenge the beliefs and what they were about. Hours spent in prayer..listening and partaking in the ancient melodies – lost their place for me in my world.
As a skeptical young adult – I found myself with no need for such kind of ‘organization’. Without it all – the world would be a happier place.
With the arrival of my own children – I returned. Upholding the traditions – both religious and familial. Offering them up what I had experienced. Perhaps – providing a foundation from which they might someday choose. Perhaps – hoping that by doing so..I would be somehow anchoring them in this faith and assuring myself and my forebearers of the continuation of our people.
Now at this certainly uncertain age – I find myself looking inwards..asking what it means to me. No longer that good obedient child..nor that rebellious teenager and cynical young adult. No longer needing to do it for my children. It’s time now – to choose for myself…to decide what parts I want to keep and what parts I need to discard.