I actually Googled the words “Crash Course Rosh Hashanah” on a recent night.
Don’t get me wrong. I know what Rosh Hashanah is all about. For me, it’s about taking stock of the past year — how I’ve grown, where I’ve missed the mark, and where there is room for teshuvah. It’s also about gratitude, joy, community, and a whole lot of food.
I know all of this, but the end of summer seems to be speeding toward me like an out-of-control train and it’s all I can do to hang on. All of a sudden, our summer vacation seem like a distant memory; I find myself caught up in a whirlwind of preschool forms, and ballet schedules, and buying new sneakers for growing feet. And when does Hebrew school start? And oh, yes (whoops!), daycare is closed the entire week of Labor Day, so it’s time to schedule some play dates!
Somewhere, tucked in between our last summer hurrah on Cape Cod and the start of preschool, is Rosh Hashanah.
Somehow, one of the holiest days of the Jewish year has become yet another little box on my Google calendar that causes my chest to tighten just a bit and my stress to rise as I think about everything that I need to deal with over the next few weeks. Do the girls have any Shabbat dresses that still fit? Did I fill out the forms for High Holiday tickets? Did I remember to sign up for my volunteer hour helping with kids’ services? Oh, and while I’m at it, I guess I should renew our synagogue membership for the year.
I don’t want Rosh Hashanah to be something I need to deal with. I want it to be a day I look forward to, a time of connection and renewal, a time when I can find my grounding in Judaism after a summer away from services and Hebrew school and with very few Jewish holidays. I want it to be a time of reflection, where I can move beyond throwing beans into the water at City Hall for Tashlikh and spend some quality time with mysiddur, my journal, and my thoughts. I crave time and space to sit and think and pray and consider how I to find and create new Jewish rituals and connections in my life. I want to revisit our Shabbat practices, think more deeply about kashrut, get more involved in my synagogue’s Rosh Chodesh group, and renew my commitment to sharing our Jewish holidays with my daughters’ secular preschool classes.
That’s how Rosh Hashanah always was before we had kids. My husband and I would spend long mornings in services and long afternoons walking, discussing and debating what our Jewish family would look like someday. We made big decisions as a result of those conversations, including a trip to Israel, a decision to stop eating treyf, and a renewed commitment to Shabbat.
That all stopped when the girls were born. The first few years with two were so chaotic that I considered it a success if we made it to the family services on time (and for staying the entire time, diaper changes notwithstanding). The contemplation of Rosh Hashanah was replaced with the hectic but joyful experience of sharing it with my children.
But now they’re 3 and almost 5, and they will both be in preschool in the fall. I don’t feel like we’re treading water quite so frantically anymore. The girls are in Hebrew school, and our schedules are starting to be more predictable. Our lives are settling into the seasonal pattern that we will follow for the next 15 years or so, which means it’s time for me to start consciously making space in the late summer to reflect on the past year and consider how I would like to move forward. (I hear that’s what the entire month of Elul is for.)
We’re off to the Cape for one more beach trip before the madness really begins. I’m hoping to find some moments, perhaps early in the morning as the sun is rising or after the girls are in bed to read and think and plan and mostly feel grateful. I’m hoping to find some space in my mind and my heart so I can catch my breath just a little bit as I head into the High Holy Days. And I wish the same for all of you, as well as a sweet, meaningful, and joyful new year. L’shanah Tovah Tikatevu!
A version of this piece first appeared in The Jewish Advocate and then on the Huffington Post Religion page.