When I wrote “Passover for Dummies” in the spring of 2019, I had no idea how little I knew about the holiday. Of course, I considered myself an expert on all things Jewish. After all, I …
When I wrote “Passover for Dummies” in the spring of 2019, I had no idea how little I knew about the holiday. Of course, I considered myself an expert on all things Jewish. After all, I went to Hebrew school, I attended temple religiously, had a Bar Mitzvah, blah, blah, blah... but, as it turned out, I was the dummy and I learned a thing or two along the way.
When I wrote “Necessity is the Mother of Invention” on July 15 of this year, I had no idea that my influence was so far-reaching as to inspire a major organization (www.chabad.org) to think outside the box and take heed. It would also appear that when I wrote “Reinventing the Wheel” just last week, even more folks (www.roshhashanaha.org) leapt to their feet, shouted “Eureka!” and, once again, my words echoed through the land, inspiring, influencing, you know... the whole nine yards.
Well, that’s how it sounded in my head, anyhow. Truth be told, there are smart, clever, inventive people all over the world, blissfully unaware of my existence and I’m still (IMHO) just a dummy.
Understanding that I would not be attending services in a synagogue this year, I scratched my head over the best way to honor both Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) when, out of nowhere, an actual box labeled “The High Holidays Experience” miraculously appeared at my door. Truth be told, it wasn’t that mysterious. I’m exaggerating, if you can imagine such a thing. “I have a holiday gift for you,” a friend had texted last week. “When can I drop it off?”
“If it’s food, I can’t eat it, and we have bears at Camp Fox, so it’s best to not leave packages unattended,” I wrote in response, politely declining her offer. “It’s not food,” she wrote back, “but a blessing package for the New Year. I’ll leave it on your deck tomorrow.” Of course, I instantly forgot, so it seemed like a miracle when I came across it the next day.
“Discover the spirit and inspiration of the High Holidays,” read the label, along with a sticker that read, “another outreach project of the Mitzvah Fund” provided by Monticello, NY’s Landfield Avenue Synagogue and Rabbi Chanowitz. I have always defined “mitzvah” as a good deed, but when I looked it up, I found a long, long article defining it in laborious detail, so I’ll spare you and describe the contents of the box instead. There was a booklet titled “Peek Behind the Prayer” and a handful of flashcards with clever names like “the ultimate menu,” “let there be light” and “leveling up for the new year.”
“Wine (or grape juice) is the drink of choice” one of the cards informed, “to mark a festive occasion.” I don’t drink, and I feel less than festive these days, but there was a little bottle of the juice and a cup included with instructions: “Fill your cup and hold it in the palm of your right hand while saying the blessing out loud.” Done and done.
“Warm your home with the radiance of the holiday,” yet another card suggested with instructions to “light 18 minutes before sunset (I’ll explain that another time), then wave your hands in three circular motions over the flames, welcoming the holiness of the New Year.” Of course, I burned the “palm of my right hand” in the process while reciting the phonetic version of the prayer. Hebrew school was a long time ago.
There was a tiny honey cake (guess what, friend, bears love honey!) to be eaten, representing the ushering in of a “sweet new year” and another note to go with: “Shhh!” it admonished (I swear) “washing hands and eating bread (referring to the braided Challah eaten on special occasions) is one long ritual, so no talking in-between.” “Well, that leaves me out,” I said to the dog. “What’s next?”
A special candle called a “yahrzeit” was included, which is lit before sundown preceding the start of both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, in honor of parents who are no longer with us, so you can be sure I did that. It’s accompanied by a traditional prayer (memorized all those years ago) that causes me to tear up every time it’s whispered aloud, be it in a temple or right here at home.
Rosh Hashanah is behind us (September 19) while Yom Kippur is just ahead (Monday, September 28) and although going to a synagogue is out of the question, thanks to Rabbi Chanowitz and my mitzvah-performing pal, I’m armed and ready for whatever comes my way. Except bears. We don’t encourage bears. And the “peek behind the prayer”? Wise words: “A time to converse, and a time to connect” it states in the pamphlet. “A time to reach deep into yourself. A time to talk with G-d [sic], a time to listen to the voice of your soul.” I paused, considering the circumstances, the virus and the distance (metaphorical or otherwise) between myself and my family. “Moments of gratitude,” the booklet reads, “moments of need, moments of comfort. This is prayer.” All that and more, left in a box at my door.
Fun Fact: On the second night of Rosh Hashanah, we eat a fruit that we haven’t tasted yet this season. It’s kept on the table while lighting the candles and passed around for everyone to taste after the prayer has been recited.
For more information on Rabbi Chanowitz, the Mitzvah Fund and the Landfield Avenue Synagogue, call 845/794-8470.