My Rosh Hashanah Journey

1 year ago

On Erev Rosh Hashanah, I didn’t originally plan to go to Shul. I’d forgotten entirely what day it was and even begun to make plans, when those plans were guiltily struck through and I began telling people, “It’s the most important day of the year!”. Not entirely true, but even now I don’t really understand the real most important day of the year. I got my way and ended up attending the evening service. I remember that evening as if it were yesterday. I remember presenting my then best friend with a pack of sweets, and saying, “It’s for a sweet new year!”. She probably guessed how grossly unprepared I was, because the biscuits were grabbed off the shelves of a local supermarket. At least they had a hescher. I also remember standing outside the Shul, in the crisp, chilly autumn air, looking up at the sky and asking myself, “What do I want from 5776?”.

Well, it’s a year later, and I didn’t do any of the things I wanted to.

My plans were always a little vague. But I definitely had 5776 laid out neatly before me. For once, I was organised. I was going to do so many things, and they all orbited around one sphere- Reform Judaism. Reform Judaism was cutting edge and innovative and amazing and… I wouldn’t talk of anything else. For the first time, I felt like I belonged. I was happy. Contented. But what I didn’t notice until many months later, was that strangely, I had far more passion for learning, for Torah, when I wasn’t at all observant. A year before it had been a beautiful mystery to delve into. Now I had lost my motivation.

Perhaps I should provide a little background.

2 years ago

I can’t say I was observant two years ago. I’m pretty new to the whole ba’alat-teshuvah thing. And yet, before I even considered keeping shabbos or going to Shul, I loved Judaism with my whole heart. I found it beautiful and just a little bit mysterious. Looking back, I initially thought, “Well, why didn’t I do anything about it, then?”, but I suppose in retrospect I did. It just took time. Anyway, despite my total lack of observance regarding the laws which I embrace today, I did love tradition. And I incorporated it into my life, in small, barely noticeable doses. But on Rosh Hashanah, it was different. I was determined that I was going to celebrate the day in all it’s glory.

And so I did.

I’ll be honest. The day was a disaster. I remember my shiny new yontiff outfit. It wouldn’t have looked out of place in Mea Shearim, and was greeted with much scorn and laughter. And worse. So I retreated to the kitchen, where I baked apples and honey in my broken oven, while tackling a mound of washing up and playing goyishe music over the speakers. It was the definition of chaos, to say the least. As sundown approached, I think I shut off most of the appliances, but I can’t be sure. I remember one thing I didn’t turn off, though, which was the record player, as I unwrapped a shiny new record, “For the yontiff!”.

Looking back on that, I laugh. How on earth could I celebrate the new year with such pritzus? By today’s standards, the record was tame. But had I ever heard the words “kol b’isha evra”? Probably not. Though my male relatives had heard plenty of kol isha, thanks to me. Anyway. Next in the string of disasters was the apples and honey. I served them, and later asked for a verdict. “Forgettable”, I was told. Brutal.

But they can’t have been as forgettable as the next day, which is erased from my memory.

Today

For the first time ever, I think I’m prepared for Rosh Hashanah. Not materially, unfortunately. I still haven’t bought a single new year card, and I am yet to find a honey cake recipe without eggs. But spiritually… I do feel ready. All month I’ve been thinking and dwelling and writing and thinking some more. I know what I want this year. But I also know, two years ago, I would never have believed I’d be standing where I am now. Observant. Different. A year ago even I wouldn’t have believed it. So I’m not going to place too much emphasis on the minute details. Instead, I know the one place I need to be.

Closer to G-d.

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