I did not go to Rosh Hashana services this year. I am in college now, and I can do what I want, right? Sort of.
If I wished to skip the one class I had on Monday morning, I could have done so without consequence to my grades. In an email at the start of the academic year, my college informed me and every other student, that should we need to miss a class for a religious reason, the professor will understand. I, however, have no wish to do this.
I did attend the Erev Rosh Hashana service with the college Jewish community and will be at Kol Nidre at a nearby congregation to experience the different options available to me in this new place. Despite my decision to forego the traditional morning services, I have no intention of letting go of my religious and spiritual practice.
As many of my friends woke up on Rosh Hashana morning and dressed in their nice, fancy clothes, I woke up, found my textbook, and walked to my Introduction to Modern Hebrew class.
Throughout my life I have been to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services each year. I know the services well and enjoy the special melodies that we hear only at this time of celebration and reflection. I love the promise of freshly picked apples and sweet honey after Rosh Hashana services and the somber, introspective vibe of Yom Kippur tunes. The red siddur is different than the everyday one we use in my congregation, but I love the fonts and indications of when the community uses their voice as one.
As familiar as I am with the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services, I am almost entirely unfamiliar with the modern Hebrew language. I can ask where the bathroom is, but in the event someone was to respond to me in Hebrew, I would not understand their directions. Throughout years of Hebrew school, I have memorized the prayers. I love the feeling of the Hebrew prayers in my mouth, but I do not understand each word and the meaning of what I am saying.
It certainly felt strange to deliberately stray from the traditional services I know so well, but I enjoyed class that day. As it is still the first weeks of school, we are reviewing the aleph-bet and practicing writing the letters in script. We read a newspaper meant for beginning Hebrew readers. Although the words were mostly foreign to me, I recognized a report about Barak Obama and Benyamin Netanyahu. Also, we are beginning to learn words to introduce ourselves and tell facts about ourselves. I love that the words I heard while in Israel are now coming from my own lips.
College is a time of transition and exploration. I am a Jew and feel connected to my identity and my community, but I wish to strengthen that bond. Some might say that attending services in the local community of my college will do that, but I believe that having a new experience and gaining new knowledge will do so even more effectively. This is the time in my life, while I am here at college, specifically to learn as much as I can. By learning Hebrew, I will begin to have greater insight into the meanings of the prayers that I know by heart. I will be able to have a deeper relationship with the land and people of Israel by being able to communicate in a language that is so central to the Jewish people.
I did not choose a later wake up time or an extra long breakfast in exchange for not attending services. Instead I am choosing to take advantage of the opportunity to be a college student. I am choosing to explore and expand my Jewish identity.