It is erev Rosh Hashana as I write this and my kitchen is a wreck as I prepare for the dozens of guests we will be hosting. I love being a Rebbetzin and I love having guests but domesticity does not come easily to me. So while I urge my husband to invite many guests for Rosh Hashana, the cooking, baking and cleaning required for so many guests is daunting.
But my lack of kitchen excitement aside, I wish that the days preceding Rosh Hashana were not focused on menus and food shopping when how I really want to spend these intense days is thinking, introspecting and learning.
I often ponder how ironic it is that before I married my rabbi husband, my pre-Rosh Hashana days did not include shopping and cooking but days on end of listening to Rabbi Frand CD’s about Teshuva- repentance. During those days, I would go to Yeshiva University every night of Slichot, the days before Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur and daven the emotionally charged Tefillot that would remind me what these days were truly all about. Those were the days that my family and I davened at a special Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur minyan for serious daveners who wanted to sing every song with enthusiasm and shout out meaningful words.
Sometimes I compare that life with my current life in our small Jewish community in Charleston and I feel a longing for the intensity that once was.
As half of a rabbinic couple, Rosh Hashana is one of the busiest “working days” of the year. Our shul is packed with people, some who only come once a year. This is not their place of comfort and I am eager to meet them, to make it clear to them how happy we are that they have come and I try to make it around the shul to say hello to everyone. I run pull-out sessions during the davening to make the service more accessible and meaningful to many who are there and don’t know the Hebrew and the meaning of the words. I know these are important things to do, that they are my role as the Rebbetzin of the shul- to welcome and to inspire, and in truth, I do enjoy these roles.
But sometimes, I just wish I was the anonymous davener in the back of the room, taking my time to speak to my G-d, to connect, to think, to hum tunes that go back in my memory to days of more intense Rosh Hashanas.
But if I can look past the crowds and see the faces, the scenery changes. And what comes into view are the stories that fill every pew. As the Rebbetzin, I am privy to some of them and knowing the stories of the magnificent souls paints a very different picture.
There’s the new father who lost his job a few weeks ago because he would not work on Shabbos and his company refused to accommodate. His faith and strength- and sacrifice- something that I cannot even imagine, has been staggering for me to see. I’ve heard stories from rabbis about people like him who lived in the 1920’s but I’ve never been privileged to know such a person.
There is the man who makes minyan his top priority and makes sure our shul has one every day. He also knows every person’s birthday and makes it his business to make every person feel special on that day. Did I mention he also arranges Seudah Shlishit every week at shul and buys special treats- for children and adults- so that everyone enjoys?
There’s the woman who recently apologized to a friend who she hurt thirty years ago. Can you imagine?
There’s the woman who lay on my couch until 1:30am and baby-sat for me when I said I was sad to be missing Slichot because I didn’t have a baby-sitter. She didn’t want me to miss out so she came over. I am not even going to try to cover the thousand acts of chessed this woman does. She is my inspiration.
There’s the man who comes to shul at 6am every morning, an hour before minyan so he can learn before davening. There is another man who comes shortly afterward so he can learn. This second man will do anything for our shul- cooks dinner, fixes problems- anything- and does it without fanfare simply because he cares.
There’s a man and his wife who quietly donated money so that ten women they did not know could go to Israel to learn about their Judaism.
There’s the man who lives for enthusing our children with the love of Judaism. He gives “simchas ha’chaim” (joy of life) its meaning.
There’s the man who cooks and bakes and gardens for our shul out of the goodness of his heart.
There’s the woman who takes some of our community women to the mikva. No matter how late a woman needs to go, her response is always, “I’m happy to have the mitzvah”.
There’s the rabbi, who I know personally, who doesn’t get brought down by pettiness or politics of any kind. He is focused on building neshamas- souls. When I grow up, I want to be like him.
There’s the two people who are on the most opposite ends of the political spectrum that you will ever find. But one wrote a letter in support of the other, lauding his incredible qualities and writing how much he respects him. I truly believe Mashiach is one step closer because of that letter.
There are many more stories that I do not know about or that I am simply not sharing. People who have handled disappointments and setbacks with grace and with faith. People who do hidden kindnesses for others. People who have looked past, looked deeper and looked within.
This is a sampling of the stories that are part of our synagogue. Many of the people in these stories are not observant. It does not matter. They are moving upward in their Jewish growth and that is truly what is important; they are an inspiration for me not to sit on my laurels but to increase my own observance and follow suit.
On the Yamim Noraim, the High Holy Days, the prayers are in plural, meant to be said as a congregation. One reason for this is because as a congregation, we pool our merits. Your merit becomes our merit.
While I would love to have time to utter the words of the davening with greater time and intensity which I might have if I was not the Rebbetzin, I look around the synagogue and realize it is my privilege to share the merits of this congregation. I mean it with my full heart when I say there is no congregation I would rather spend my Yom Tov with.
Wishing us all a healthy year and may God answer all of our prayers for the good. Wishing us all continued growth in our New Year and may we continue to inspire each other to grow together as one.