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Each New Year

All of my life, September has borne three dawns; the Yomim Noraim, the school year, and my birthday. On the one hand, each serves as a mnemonic for the others. On the other hand, their frequent temporal blurring means I can’t enjoy them individually.

First, I look forward to Yom Teruah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Hashanah Rabbah. Whereas Hashanah Rabbah makes me a tad sad as I hate leaving our Sukkah, Hashem did bestow upon Am Yisrael with Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

The Days of Awe have always felt different to me than the rest of the year. As a young, secular lass, that period meant new clothes, baking honey cake (my family’s recipe’s secret ingredient was brewed coffee), helping unfold rows of chairs for our house of worship, and communing with the Aibishter on the hill behind our shul when children’s services were over but the grownups were still praying.

Later, when I grew into adulthood and frumkeit, The High Holy Days meant blessing new fruit, making recipes incorporating simonim and savoring the hours when I prayed with a minyan. That life phase also meant a houseful of company, time away from the classroom, and an Elul trip to my father’s grave.

These days, though, just one child lives at home, my family’s still recovering from COVID’s guestless years, and my recurring injuries compound hosting challenges. What’s more, our hefker kitten occupies our lone guestroom. Unlike our prior, six bedroom apartment, our current dwelling proscribes having lots of visitors. Only sometimes do our unmarrieds come up to Jerusalem for the holidays and our marrieds no  longer visit for sleepovers as we now lack “sufficient” accommodations. Overall, our hagim are relatively quiet.

In this chapter, even getting to shul has been a test. At Corona’s height, given that we’re both high risk, we relied on local rabbis’ kindness to hear the shofar outside our apartment building. Thereafter, I hobbled to the synagogue closest to our home because I couldn’t walk all the way to our chosen minyan, which Hubs attended without me.

Not only have my experiences of The Day of Judgement, The Day of Remembrance, and The Feast of Tabernacles changed over my lifetime, but so, too, have my encounters with the school year’s commencement. As a student and, later, as a teacher and then a professor, that calendar time has had shifting value for me.

When I was a girl, new school years brought new pencil cases, lunchboxes, and gym shoes. Additionally, they conveyed increasingly stimulating learning opportunities. I liked school, so, I was excited when I received progressively thought-provoking challenges.

Although I grew up with essentially the same kids throughout elementary school and then with the same subset of them throughout middle and high school, there remained the possibility, in September, of meeting children who had moved into our district during the summer or of discovering a teacher who could help me progress thru independent studies. Hence, when band camp was over (I played oboe), summer swim lessons were completed, and bike riding until sunset was terminated, I still had much to which to look forward.

As I aged, I transitioned to the instructor’s side of the desk. First, I earned a secondary education certificate. Second, I became a professor. I loved teaching undergraduates and graduate students more than I had loved a friend’s brother’s rabbit. I enjoyed engaging in research more than I had enjoyed discovering wild raspberries growing in my neighborhood’s wooded lots. I loved connecting with peers at national and international conferences more than I had loved school dances and intervarsity forensics tournaments. Truly, I adored being a professor.

Nonetheless, I sidestepped most of my university commitments to become a full-time, hands-on Mom. For roughly fourteen years, woods walks, sidewalk chalk drawings, and block towers constituted my focus. I taught night courses but engaged in no new research. Nevertheless, when I had judged my children old enough for my return to full-time lecturing and scholarly pursuits, my family was gifted an atypical route to aliyah.

In Israel, initially, I taught part-time, in English-speaking venues. My children’s successful klita was more important to me than any renewed investment I might have made in academia. Later, I left higher education altogether to offer workshops either on my mirpesset or at locations such as Jerusalem’s OU Israel Center and AACI’s Jerusalem branch. Eventually, I transitioned to remote instruction. More recently, I stopped teaching altogether to set aside sufficient hours to fulfill book contracts. Maybe, going forward, I’ll again offer writing classes.

As per my birthday, predictably, I’ve moved from cake with ice cream and charades, to restaurant dinners with my spouse and friends, to crayoned cards alongside of gifts consisting of captured fireflies or of handmade potholders. These days, since Computer Cowboy and I are continuing to downsize, material gifts are generally unnecessary and unwelcomed. Instead, I try to exploit my birthday’s auspiciousness by giving people blessings. As for fine dining, I’d rather cozy up to my help-opposite, i.e., arrange for both of us to take time away from work to talk, laugh, and snuggle than pay someone else to cook what we can prepare.

This September, IYH, will still deliver a Jewish New Year, a fresh school year, and my birth anniversary. However, the older me notes that these beginnings’ significances have changed.

About the Author
KJ Hannah Greenberg has been playing with words for an awfully long time. Initially a rhetoric professor and a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, she shed her academic laurels to romp around with a prickle of imaginary hedgehogs. Thereafter, her writing has been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than forty books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals.