Here we are, firmly ensconced in this new year of 5775. We’re on the other side of Rosh Hashana and we’ve made it past the endless meals (set, serve, eat, repeat….), the long stints of prayer, and the captivating sounds of the shofar. Yom Kippur is just around the corner and while we are all back at our daily grind and the kids are back in school/mechina/army, our Day of Atonement is never far from our minds.
I’ve always felt that this is our time in limbo. These eight days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we are caught in the in-between. While we’ve clearly begun a new year, not everything is new and shiny just yet. There’s still the sense of unfinished business and it makes it difficult to shed the old and take on the new. Yom Kippur, at least for me, brings that closure.
A few days before Rosh Hashana, I drove into Jerusalem to do a few errands. Gifted with the car for the day and no pressing need to rush back home, I ended up heading on foot from the center of town towards the Old City. It was the most glorious of days, a sharp blue sky dotted with enough clouds to block out the intense sun and a cool breeze which took the edge off the heat.
I walked past The City of David, past the open Arab markets, meandering through the cobblestone pathways until I reached the Cardo, then wove my way around towards the Wailing Wall. The Old City has always fascinated me. It’s always abustle with so many different kinds of people — a true melding of the nations. Two or three schools were visiting that day — kindergarten age kids, a religious girls’ school and a secular teenage group. There was a tour from China, their leader guiding the way with her up-stretched arm holding a bright yellow umbrella, and another tour group from Africa.
I made sure my wallet was filled with enough loose change so I can give a little something to every outstretched hand in need and entered the Kotel — the Wailing Wall. It seemed odd at first, like something wasn’t quite right with this ancient and holy wall and it took me a few minutes until I realized why. All the tiny crumpled up notes, all those secret fervent wishes and prayers for health, happiness, fertility and love were missing. And I remembered that the Wailing Wall employed a crew of people every year (sometimes more than once a year) to remove all those genuine pleas to make room for more. I grabbed a prayer book and sat down in the shade, not far from the front of the wall, and prayed.
For some reason, I didn’t suffer from my usual ADD while praying at the Kotel walls. I will be the first to admit that I’ve got ADD when it comes to sitting in synagogue. As much as I try to yank my concentration back to my prayer book, I often find my mind wandering. I tend to analyze the gorgeous stained glass windows of our synagogue which depict the twelve tribes, or end up reading the English translation and the commentaries of the Torah reading instead of following along the Hebrew text. If I’m having company, I mentally go through my menu and make sure I’ve taken my challot out of the freezer and put the chicken on the hot plate. But here, at the Kotel, every word resonated within me and I stood alone, yet together with all those women — young, old, religious, secular, Jew, non-Jew, soldier, civilian — and I felt as if all our prayers rose up together. I prayed for my usual cocktail of wishes: health and happiness for my family and friends, and a heartfelt wish for our country to settle into the kind of permanent peace and prosperity that it so richly deserves. Our country has never needed those prayers as much as it does now.
I’m looking forward to this Yom Kippur in a way I never have before. With the worst hopefully behind us, this year can be — despite the chaos surrounding us — a great year. We ended last year, the year of 5774, on rather a bad note. We had lost so many lives and spent our summer yo-yo-ing between fear and hope. We are still reeling from the wounds of a war that have not yet healed. Too many countries stood up against us, rising on the tide of their hatred for both the Jewish people and the Jewish nation, a blind hatred that we have faced time and time again throughout our turbulent history. But this past summer we also learned something remarkable about ourselves as a nation, something we should never forget. We learned how strong we can be when we pull together and fight for one another. How our simple outpouring of love can ease our neighbor’s pain. How by just simply showing up at a stranger’s funeral can bring a family comfort. How a child’s colorful drawing and words of support can make a soldier smile.
We are a nation of hope and of rebirth. Even after all the pain and suffering and loss, we still put a smile on our faces and greet our friends and family, wishing them a Happy Sweet New Year. You’d think we’d be despondent. Hopeless and fearful for our future. Surrounded by Islamic forces that are bullying their way into every western country and culture, you’d think that there’s nothing ‘sweet’ about this coming year.
But you’d be wrong. Just as our nation has shown its resilience and its togetherness this past summer, we will forever be a people who will always fight for the ‘sweet’ life.
Shana Tova U’Metuka!