“Life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer you get to the end, the faster it goes.” – Anonymous
Although not such a fan of bathroom humor, the joke occasionally haunts me, especially as I stand knee deep in that all-too-brief season called Summer.
Not so long ago, two months at sleepaway camp tethered me to every other facet of existence. Rife with songs, friendships, rivalries and life lessons, those eight weeks would serve as my raison d’etre, while I merely endured the remaining 10 months of existence until, praise God, we would pack a duffel bag and once again, meet around the bonfire and lakefront.
So precious, that thing called Time. Am I the only mother who gazes upon her dark skinned, bearded son in his mid-30’s and still sees (really!) the rich, blond curls of his toddlerhood? And that little girl whom I taught to peel carrots and tie her shoes? Wearing oversized spectacles, she perused the sides of cereal boxes until she could, unassisted, read whole story-books by the age of five. Today that little girl is mother to nine children but I still worry that she gets enough sleep, eats her vegetables and flosses before bed.
This morning I awakened to the realization that it was my Aliyah Anniversary; 28 years since returning home to Israel. I so clearly remember that first terrible year when, without Hebrew language, without any understanding of the culture, without friends or family upon which to find a soft shoulder to cry upon, I stoically/artificially remained upright for the sake of my trusting children. I didn’t want to return to America. I just wanted the sadness and insecurity to stop. I wanted things to feel the same.
But nothing was the same except for my daily prayers. Before boarding the plane in 1995, I’d hit the local Judaica store to purchase a few critical books, perhaps thinking that the Holy Land wouldn’t have enough religious reading material. Artscroll was relatively new on the scene and although we already owned an impressive dark blue Five Books of Moses (Chumash) and our synagogue had already replaced most of the antiquated Hertz siddurim with the handsome Artscroll ones, I wanted a small edition for the daily prayers that I could discreetly keep in my purse. My little siddur is 4×6 inches and fits nicely in the back pocket of my jeans when necessary or the small zipper section of the computer bag when traveling.
On the anniversary of my aliyah, a dear friend gifted me with a stunning volume of the most current, popular prayer book. She had hosted my going-away party in 1995 and has seen me with the same siddur since before I left the States. This new siddur boasts both the daily prayers and those for all of the holidays, Torah readings for special days, ‘Guide to the Perplexed’ and ‘Ethics of Our Fathers.’ It is a miracle book and even without the prayers, the commentaries and accompanying essays can suitably jump-start an education for anyone seeking a crash-course in Jewish thought and practice. This thick and handsome book, embossed with my name in gold, is a publishing masterpiece. It also measures 4×6 inches in size.
But like a threadbare, velvet dressing gown or well-worn pair of leather moccasins, my little prayer book has provided succor on the roughest of days for almost three decades. Lipstick stains from pre-dawn visits to the Western Wall during a time that saw the disintegration of a marriage and alienation from children. A few pages are puckered from years of huge, salty tears which unapologetically fell as I beseeched God to make miracles for my dying father and others whom I dearly loved. And the pages that list personal prayers for finding a soulmate for me and others, improving one’s livelihood, and robust health are dog-eared and nearly translucent from exposure. My siddur has kept airplanes aloft and, at times, has been passed hand-to-hand to neighbors who sat next to me in the bomb shelter during the days where we huddled, under siege from enemy missiles.
Jews need no intermediaries in order to storm the Heavens with heartfelt requests and expressions of our souls. Fonts, layout, paper-thickness, cover art and publishing date matter little. What remains constant and comforting are expressions which traverse something as ephemeral as time, and mirror the entreaties of our forefathers and foremothers.
(Reprinted with permission of San Diego Jewish Journal, August, 2023)