Debby Titlebaum Neuman

Flowing in the Ten Days

Yesterday in shul, the woman next to me lifted her head, coming up for air from her pool of prayers and said, ‘I just want to do this all the time.  I wish Rosh Hashanah was every day’.  I smiled, wondering where my own prayers were leading me and before I could respond she was swimming again.

This chag was full of food, gathering, prayer, moments of joy and moments of angst.  It wasn’t ideal and holy.  I didn’t feel aglow.  In fact, I felt that at the starting line my feet faltered, and my left foot lead.  I didn’t feel calmer, wiser, or more connected.  I felt like a fish flopping on the edge of the water, no air left to ask the waves to envelope me.  My mind was turbulent: Was teshuva happening?  Had I done the work to make changes?  Why were people in the world so full of suffering?  Why did I not experience an epiphany?  Why did everything feel so banal?

I was blessed by neighbours and friends with sweetness, health, and happiness.  In my mind, a storm raged and threatened to blow all their kindness to bits.  ‘This is what we said last year’ swirled around my head, and ‘still so many people had hardships this year’ pounded over and over.

I want these days to be magical:  We pray and the world’s negativity gets washed away; as simple as that.  But even amidst the prayers we are judging each other and ourselves, people are testing our patience and there always seems to be one kid whose temper tantrum threatens to drown the cry of the shofar.

This year on Rosh Hashana, my work was different than in the past.  There was no great moment, opening, or connection.  There was just a simple me, reminding myself that change happens; I just need to make sure I don’t stand in its way.

This morning, the sky foreboding, I dragged myself up to wake my daughters for school.  After all those positive intentions for the New Year, and two whole days to express them, the girls didn’t even budge when the lights came on and I welcomed them to a new day.

It took a lot of deep breaths, forced smiles, and some unspoken, underlying tension to get through the slow (very slow) back to school morning.  There were no clean clothes according to one child and another walked out ready to go only to rush back remembering it was a sport day….’Where are my shoes!?!’  This was not the school morning of my prayers, but no one missed the bus and I am thankful for small miracles.

Amidst all the chaos, I wanted another chance to swim in the sea of prayer; maybe a slow breaststroke or a backstroke where I gaze up at the clouds moving lazy in the sky.  But today daily life opened early trying to make up for lost time.  There was no easy getaway from dirty dishes, piles of laundry, food prep, and work.

Then I remembered: our holidays/prayers are not meant to be escape routes. They are portals meant to recharge us and infuse purpose into even our most mundane actions.

Two days of prayer cannot ‘fix’ us.  The magical reality of this world is our ability to know we are both whole and broken simultaneously.

Now I sit in the ten days.  I will not desire holy days over regular days.  I will not judge how well or how much I pray. I will not look for ways to escape the daily grind.  I will not focus on my first missteps of the year.  Instead I will remember that every act I perform is a prayer.  My soul is always steeped in those waters and what’s mine is to simply step aside and let it swim.

About the Author
Debby is a mother, writer, childbirth educator, spiritual teacher, forest gan manager, and doula. When she is not teaching, writing, or attending births she can most often be found wandering the Judean hills with her five daughters, foraging wild edibles, strumming her ukelele, and feeling gratitude at the wonders of creation.
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