Nathan Bigman
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Rosh Hashanah survival guide

Do you really need to say every word of every prayer? 5 tips for getting through the holiday that never ends

Two days! What were the rabbis thinking? The Torah says one day, honest to God. Here’s the text:

In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations. You shall observe it as a day when the horn is sounded.

Also, nothing about repentance, judgment, or praying for hours on end. There’s definitely nothing about God scribbling in books. If you go back enough years, none of our ancestors, including Moses, did what we do on this holiday, so either they’re all in Hell, or we’re all idiots. I vote for idiots.

Nonetheless, I celebrate. As my Cleveland Heights neighbor, holocaust-surviving-shul-partner Jerry used to say, “What am I, a potato? I’m a Jew.” So I go, I pray, I eat, I pray, I eat, I sleep, I socialize. As the good book says, “…until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you.”

So here are 5 tips to make the whole thing less loathsome.

Tip Number 1 – One Big Meal a Day

Love those holiday meals. It was evening and it was dinner, it was morning, and it was lunch, the First Day. It was evening and it was dinner, it was morning, and it was lunch, the Second Day. Wine and bread and chopped liver and guacamole and meatballs or fish then chicken and beef. And you have to socialize at the same time. And you have to socialize with some of the same people from meal to meal.

So, choose either dinner or lunch, and have a big meal for that, each day. We do a big dinner, and for lunch, tuna fish sandwiches and no guests.

Tip Number 2 – The Big Walk

Take a big walk, preferably after the big meal. If you have the nerve in your very religious neighborhood, get out those sneakers, AKA running shoes, and really get moving. You’ll feel better.

A tip from my wife – take the big walk to a museum. It’s more interesting than the prayers. Be sure to purchase your tickets in advance.

Tip Number 3 – Flexible Approach to Time

Synagogue start-times are just a suggestion, and end times are non-existent. I know that someone has to show up on time to make the minyan, but someone always does, so it doesn’t have to be you. Actually, you have to go on time so that I can go late.

Tip Number 4 – Bring a Book

Bring a serious book to read, and when you’re bored, which, if you’ve been through this as many times as I have, is the whole time, read the book. If you can sneak in a cup of coffee then you’re really in business.

Look around you. Nearly every person in the synagogue, including the people who came on time, is reading something other than the prayers.

Tip Number 5 – Edit the Prayers

You really don’t have to say all of the words — that is, unless you’re one of those Jews who, as my wife says, “Has to check all of the boxes.” If you say Psalm 27 twice a day the entire month of Elul, and also mumble Aramaic prayers you don’t understand the rest of the year, you might be one of those Jews. When God opens his (her) book she (he) can see if you’ve checked all of the boxes. But for the non-box-checking Jews, my suggestion is that you say or sing the bits that remind you of your childhood or that are meaningful, moving, or even religiously important to you. The Israelites, including Moses, lived a lot of years without Psalm 27, and once it was written, there was still no printing press, so only 6 people recited it, for years.

Share your own tips in the comments. Even with these five, let me tell ya, it’s tough!

Shana Tova.

About the Author
Nathan Bigman is the author of the book Shut Up and Eat (How to quietly become a triplitarian) .
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