Tag Archives: Religion & Spirituality

The Danger of Sitting In the Balcony Is That You Might Believe You Are Above Others

If you don’t know anything about Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, I urge you to read this first, as it will provide context for today’s post.

Yom Kippur services at Great Lakes, Illinois

Yom Kippur services at Great Lakes, Illinois (Photo credit: Center for Jewish History, NYC)

It’s always rough to find seats on the High Holidays.

This year, we found ours in the balcony.

I’d never sat up there before, above the rest of the congregation.

Above the rabbis.

Above the sacred scrolls.

It was weird.

Because we usually sit facing forward, facing the Torahs at the front of the room, normally I can only see the few people sitting in front of me and on either side.

This year’s bird’s-eye view allowed me to see all the way to the back of the sanctuary.

I could see people come late and settle in the uncomfortable green seats in the rear, rather than come farther up to find half-empty pews up front. I could see people holding their prayer books – going through the motions, standing and sitting at the right times – but whispering and laughing during much of the service. I saw people sleeping. And I saw people sending text messages. I watched as they tried to hide their devices on their laps or below their seats or behind their prayer books.

I have always wondered about people who attend temple on the High Holidays but don’t really listen to the message.

Our rabbi noted that the more difficult a holiday is to keep, the more people actually do it. He said this is why more people show up on Yom Kippur – a fasting day – than on any other regular old Jewish holiday.

I would argue it’s the life and death thing that packs the house.

For many Jewish people, there is a sense that if you don’t show up for the High Holidays, you are risking some serious bad karma: Why take the risk and stay home? Maybe some people think that just by showing up they might tip the cosmic scales.

So they come.

But why come if you are just going to talk? Or text?

Why come if your heart isn’t in it?

During his sermon, the rabbi called upon us to think about how we can be better people in 5773.

And then I was caught.

Because what was I doing but sitting there judging others?

I was ashamed.

Being a Smuggy Schmostein is rarely productive.

After temple, my husband, my son and I put on our street clothes, and walked to a nearby creek to perform tashlich, a ritual where Jews gather near a live body of water to recite a prayer in which we ask G-d to “cast our sins into the depths of the sea.”

As we emptied our pockets, removing all the lint and crud that had accumulated in the littlest nooks and crannies and shook out our clothes, I felt better. These rituals, strange as they might seem, do offer comfort. In performing tashlich, I felt like I had been given an opportunity to leave old shortcomings behind, thus allowing for the chance to start the year with a clean slate.

Standing by the creek with my long list of transgressions, I silently apologized for judging the back-of-the sanctuary-sitters, the chitty-chatters, and the temple-texters.

And I promised not to sit in the balcony again.

Because, really, who am I to place myself above anyone else?

Who am I to judge?

Last night at dinner, we dipped apple slices in honey, and I saw we were actually low on honey.

I made a mental note to add “honey” to my grocery list.

As is the tradition, we wished each other a sweet year, one filled with good health and peace.

And I extend the same wishes the same to each of you.

We could all use a little less bitter and a little more sweetness in our lives. Don’cha think?

So what’s on your real and figurative grocery list this week? I definitely need honey, but I’ll leave judgment on the shelf, next to the Ho-Ho’s.

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On Sons & Thunderstorms

When my son was still wrapped up like a burrito, every time there was a thunderstorm, I carried him outside to the worn wooden bench perched on our front stoop, and, together, we sat and listened to the boomers.

As my burrito grew, he morphed into my l’il Monkey. Whenever we heard thunder or saw that first flick of lightning, we raced to the front door. He’d mastered deadbolts by then, and he turned the knob furiously as if the ice-cream truck were sitting in our driveway. Once outside, we piled on the old bench — my son sat on my lap, holding my hand with a combination of anticipation and fear while I counted: “One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand…”

And when the world shook, we laughed, and he begged for another so we waited impatiently for the next thunder-clap to shake our world.

For years we watched the skies darken, the clouds quicken, felt the air grow heavy on our skin. We listened to water slap our sidewalk angrily, and we both came to see how it works: how storms can be furious and yet temporary. He learned that even the scariest storms pass.

I know children who are terrified of thunder and lightning – kids who put their hands over their ears and cry or hide, but my son was raised up on late May storms: flashes of light and all that racket.

Maybe it’s because we imagined G-d taking a shower.

{The way my Monkey was starting to take showers.}

Maybe it’s because we imagined G-d needed to fill up the oceans.

{The way my Monkey was starting to have responsibilities.}

Maybe it’s because he imagined G-d stomping around looking for something He had misplaced.

{The way Monkey misplaced things and got all stompy and frustrated.}

Maybe it’s because he liked talking about G-d and trying to relate to Him.

“G-d makes rain. And rain makes the world grow, Mommy!” l’il Monkey told me as he stared at the yellow lilies, thirsty for a drink.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that with each summer storm, my summer-son was getting “growed up” too.

One May, I saw my son needed a new raincoat and boots for puddle stomping.

“I don’t need a coat. Or a ‘brella.” Monkey said as a matter-of-fact.

And he ran out into the downpour.

Unprotected.

Now I’m not saying it’s smart to go outside and run around on a lawn during an electrical storm, I’m just saying that we did.

We made up goofy dances, sang ridiculous songs, and chased each other around the yard in our bare feet until we were mud-spattered and drenched.

These days my little burrito is 13 years old.

We live in a different house with a less inviting front stoop. Plus, he’s gotten all teenager-ishy so we don’t really do the thunderstorm thing anymore.

One day, when I am an old woman and I hear the distant clatter of thunder, I will remember tiny yellow rain coats and tiny yellow rain-boots. I may not remember much else, but I will remember those little moments — perhaps as one long blurry moment — when the world turned chocolate pudding and everything was positively puddle wonderful.

What do you remember about thunderstorms? What little mommy-moments do you cherish?

If You Think I Take Grammar Seriously, You Should See Me On Rosh Hashanah

A shofar made from a ram's horn is traditional...

A shofar made from a ram's horn is traditionally blown in observance of Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Jewish civic year. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, I am sitting in temple for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

I’ll be thinking about the wrongs that I have committed this year and praying for forgiveness.

I assume I have hurt people this year.

I am positive that I ticked someone off.

You know, for being too quick to speak.

And for that I am sorry.

Because sometimes I say stupid stuff.

And I am working on it.

Every year.

I am working on being slower to act on impulse.

That is a tough nut to crack for me.

When I perceive an injustice, it is hard for me to shut up about it.

But sometimes, these are other people’s battles and not mine.

And sometimes the things we view as major problems are just obstacles to which we must adjust.

I’m learning that it is not my job to make everyone around me change.

I am trying to be more loving (and tolerant) towards the people who are the greatest blessings in my life. I need to thank the person who always takes my morning phone call; the person who dances with me on her driveway and brings me baskets of pears fresh off her trees; the family member, with whom I don’t seem to speak the same language, but I like to believe would be around for me if I ever really needed help.

I am trying to be more mindful of the sick. There are people around me who have been struggling, either physically or emotionally. Or both. Because, while writers may be willing to admit feelings of overwhelmedness in the blogging world, it is sometimes harder for people in real-life to share when they are melting-down. I am watching for signs, so I can be a more supportive friend.

There is a lot of symbolism regarding Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

If you are interested in learning more, you can click HERE.

Tomorrow, I will wander down to the Erie Canal and drop little dried flower petals into the water as I speak my transgressions aloud.

That’s right, I will admit to all the things that I have done wrong.

Because Jews are encouraged to make amends with anyone we have wronged and to make plans for improvement during the coming year, I will also bring a list of things with me: action steps — people to whom I need to apologize as well as thoughts on how I’d like to live my life differently in the next year, 5772.

I will say these words:

Who is like You, God, who removes iniquity and overlooks transgression of the remainder of His inheritance. He doesn’t remain angry forever because He desires kindness. He will return and He will be merciful to us.  He will conquer our iniquities, and He will cast them into the depths of the seas.

From the straits I called upon God, and God answered me with expansiveness. God is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? God is with me to help me, and He will see my foes.

And then I will shake out my pockets, symbolically removing all the old stuff. The lint and the crud that accumulates in the littlest nooks and crannies, so I can start fresh.

Rosh Hashanah is all about making peace in the community and striving to be a better person.

So each year, I try to be a little bit better.

Later, I will come home to dip an apple in honey and wish my family a sweet year, filled with health and peace.

I wish the same for each of you.

Check out this happy video.

Now for a minute, pretend you are standing beside the water with me. What is one little thing that you would like to change about yourself to be a better person?

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