Rosh Hashanah morning service. A rush of memories: Twenty years ago, I was a college student finding my way Jewishly, taking the subway down to Hebrew Union College alone for the High Holidays. There were the few years when I helped lead services, learning as I went by osmosis, as a Hillel director, and the homegrown havurah in Vermont, families who were the heart of our Jewish experience for so many years. There was the joining of two different synagogues in Burlington, struggling for that sense of belonging that never quite settled within the walls of any building.
And finally, for the first time this year—having just sent in my membership forms to the Jewish Community of Amherst–I felt at home, the girls in different parts of the building, off with cousins or in services for their age groups, saying hello to the parents of some of my closest friends who live elsewhere, sitting alone (turned out the rest of my family was in the Reconstructionist service while I had landed myself, inadvertently though not unhappily, in the more traditional one), imagining my wife with me this day next year, sharing the singing and prayers that always this time of year bring tears of connection and oneness.
Oneness. The opposite of pizzur ha-nefesh–that scattering of the soul that sneaks up on us when we’re “all over the place” and don’t take time to tap into the center that is always still and knowing. And atonement, which these ten days of reflection move us towards–the honest looking inward and then out at the many faces, all familiar somehow, elderly and innocent, filling the rows, voices filling the space.
Atonement: the at-one-ment that occurs only by taking time to focus on the words, the melodies, the silence between, the meaning of what it is to participate in community and be an individual. Yoga means oneness, too. Unity. We may be scattered, but we are never broken.
And as one of the service leaders offered, ruach–spirit–can replace the word melech–king–because god moves through each and every one of our bodies through breath. It is not some hovering outside force but that which stirs when we sing collectively.
May the coming year bring the scattered pieces together, bring my love to my side, fill the perpetual food drive bins overflowing, that we may all feed the hungry and find comfort in each other’s company.
May I remember to sit in stillness, recall the “magic shin” from the children’s service that can stand for shalom (peace), sheket (quiet), and sh’ma (listening).
May I remember my girls’ wishes for laughter and plane trips and say yes to silliness and togetherness.
May we all recognize the moments when we’re hiding behind screens and put them away.
May we be held inside the rhythms and activities that nourish, offer help before it is asked for and put out own needs aside, and also practice honoring our own needs when not to would be a disservice to ourselves and thus those we love.
May those I’ve wronged forgive me, and may my own armor soften when I hear myself being harsh or judgmental.
We are here to remember, whether we know the words or not. To measure our days in moments of true connection, not distractions.
Oh, settle my soul. May our names be inscribed in the Book of Life for another year, peace and joy ours to create but not cling to, sated by what we have rather than always seeking more, both humbled and sparked by strife to strive for kindness in our words and justice in our doings.