This Rosh Hashana, let’s dip our brown apples together

Piiiii piri piiiiiipppp ….piiiipipiprrrriiiiiiiii ….. (goes the brick-sized modem while my brother tries to connect to the Internet for the 19th time) / Beep beep beep beep beep (goes the phone in the living room as my mum tries to make a phone call for the 5th time)

(In both cases) – Still? MAAAAAZAAAAAAALLLLLL!!!! Put the phone down!!! Is the receiver stuck to your ear???? ENOUGH!!!! PUT IT DOWN RIGHT NOW!!!

And I could hardly hear them, door firmly shut, up to my eyebrows in teenage angst / silly laughter in my room.

Oh, how I miss those lengthy, ridiculous, deep, how- embarrassing -had -someone -recorded them conversations with my friends! Both by phone and face-to-face, both in one-to-one coffees or as a group during pre-drinks or pyjama parties, problems such as how do I use a tampax, should I call him, my neighbour is such a pervie, how can I hide from my parents that I failed maths were discussed and pondered endlessly.

Fast-forward 15 years and I find myself missing them, and linking them – unspiritual as they may seem – to Rosh Hashana.

A few days ago I listened to a very hands-on, inspiring yet very practical shiur by Rebbetzin Sara Yoheved Rigler. In case you hadn´t heard of her, Rebbetzin Rigler is a really prolific and brilliant author, and a very REAL teacher who doesn´t hesitate to share her challenges in order to inspire others. Speaking of Rosh Hashana, Rebbetzin Rigler explained that what will happen in the new year is not based on who we are now, but on who we want to become. (Those of us who were already making our list of Xmas presents should remember that this doesn´t apply to “I want to be rich, thin and drive a BMW”, but to “please Hashem, help me get rid of my jealousy and help me be a more patient person”, if you see what I mean). The moment when the shofar is blown, that´s when you should be fastening your belt and reclining your seat, because that´s when your year is being determined.

How can we sweeten a harsh decree? By giving tzedaka, by praying and by making teshuva. There´s lots written on the big three. What I didn´t know is that you can also brace yourself for an awesome new year (or, at least, get the best possible year for you) by being part of a group which is working on improving itself. We are talking about a group of people who, although happy with their lots, are very real about their shortcomings and challenges and what to help each other and themselves. In this case, the merit of the amazing, sometimes gruelling work that this group is undertaking protects each and every member. (By the way, this is why even those of us who go to synagogue as often as we go fishing for purple fish should ideally go at least in Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur).

Cool, sounds easy, I thought!

Umm. Not really. Not anymore.

This practice of working on our negative middot (character traits) is called mussar and it´s not something cool and blown by the winds of new-age trends. In fact, this is a Jewish school of thought that started in the 19th century, and continues in our days. I think it´s so cool that mussar students take their practical exercises with them to shul in Rosh Hashana as a way of proving their efforts.

But I´m afraid that although mussar classes are more available today than ever, they have a huge rival. It´s called Facebook.

How many people are willing to be real and work on themselves with the help of others in this Fakebook age? It was a gradual change, but those heart-to-heart conversations became less and less. Suddenly more and more friends started posting pictures of exotic holidays with their husbands. Without mentioning the petty arguments they had been having since landing on that island. Others started posting about their achievements at work, failing to mention the loneliness and sleepless nights they came with. There´s also photo after photo of cute toddlers, who are the children of old friends I hardly get to see nowadays. The lovely photos are never accompanied by the feelings of distancing from their partners and guilt when dealing with their childless sisters in-law.

So different from my good, old teenage years.

As hard as I try, I can´t really think of anything that we found too embarrassing to share, or too hard to support. After our limp, one-eyed gymnastics teacher embarrassingly failed Clara, we all gathered to prepare an awesome choreography that helped her pass with honours in the September session. (Yes, that was after a good laughing and teasing session, but still). When Blanca´s ex, who had cheated on her, tried to approach her at a club, we all circled her and chased the bastard away. At that beach party, when Elena got drunk and ended up throwing up right next to the hunk she had been fancying for the past academic year – and who had just spoken to her for the first time that very night! – we convinced her that no, he hadn´t really minded and yes, it could happen to everyone and yep, we´d help her drink less on her nights out. When Mati lost her dear dad, we called her every day for months.

It seems to me that as a group our Fakebook merits wouldn´t protect us. All we do is create unattainable and unreal expectations. We create feelings of inadequacy and jealousy. Call me mean but if you´re real to me and show me that you´re human – that you also have arguments with the hubbie, that you also got disappointed when that promotion at work went to your colleague, that you´ve been rude to your mother-in-law and feel bad even though she deserved it – when good stuff happens I´ll be genuinely happy for you. However, if all you post is fab pic after fab pic after fab pic, your good news will just be another fake happy pic. (If I get to see it, because I might already be unfollowing you, sorry to say).

And it´s not just online. When we project an ideal image of ourselves on Facebook, we feel obliged to fake it in real life as well. I´d hesitate before admitting that behind those amazing pics of a family holiday lies the fact that my teenage daughter is changing by the minute, and not for the better. And that the worry and pain turn me into a screaming monster and I feel sad for it.

It is only when we are real that we are able to get support from our friends. It´s not just about venting and complaining. It´s about helping each other be the best people we can be. Our day-to-day behaviour can be waaay more inspiring than a fake pic. If you tell me that your husband lost the key for the 3rd time in a month yet you managed to control yourself, therefore breaking the recent cycle of arguments you two had been having, that´s a hell of a lot more inspiring than yet another pic of the two of you gazing at each other. And when I find out that my partner has left with his key – and mine – in his pocket (again!), leaving me stranded (again!), I will take a deep breath, remember you, and think that this will make such a hilarious story to share on a girls night.

Might sound easy, but as a Rosh Hashana resolution it seems much better than looking at yet another pic of your romantic kiss as the sun sets in St Lucia from my stinky sofa in grey London and feeling like a loser (and yes, maybe wishing a tropical storm on you!).

So this Rosh Hashana, may we merit to be healthy and to have good friends and family to support each other, to be more preoccupied with who we want to become and less with who we want to appear to be.

Our apples might be a bit brown, but if we help each other dip them in the honey, they will taste even sweeter. May our merit as a group earn us the best year ever! SHANA TOVA!

About the Author
Born in Spain, Mazal Oaknin established herself in London in 2007, where she teaches at University College London. Since then, her head has been bubbling with stories, ideas and jokes, and she can't wait to get them off her chest on this blog.
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