Two kinds of time

As we sit here in what looks to be an approaching monsoon, all dull gray — not the glinting steely gray but the dishwater kind — trying to figure out how to cram a full week’s worth of work into the few days left to us by the holidays, we inevitably think about how the two kinds of time we live in work together.

Or don’t…

We are now approaching the end of a month-long cycle of holidays. Taken seriously, these days, along with the full month of reflections that lead up to them, take us on a roller-coaster whirl of self-reflection, asking for and granting forgiveness, thinking about our relationships and the strength or weakness of our faith that characterizes the Yamim Noraim, the High Holy Days, and that culminate in the release, joy, and hope that come with the shofar blasts that mark the end of Yom Kippur.

Then there’s the brightly colored, highly scented sensuality that comes with Sukkot, as we improbably wave and shake branches and fronds and citrus fruits whose sweet tangy smells work themselves into our hands, as we sit surrounded by somewhat-thatch-mediated nature and children’s art in our sukkot (and this year get rained out of them). That’s when we remember that although Jews have been a largely urban people for millennia, our roots, like all human roots, go back to agricultural and before that to nomadic cultures.

Now we are working up to Hoshana Rabba, when the lulavim are pounded archaically against the floor, to Shemini Atzeret, as we are asked to stay together just a little bit longer, and then on to Simchat Torah, where (if we are lucky, if we belong to a shul like mine) we dance for hours and hours, in the evening and then again in the morning, with reverence for the Torah scrolls in the center of our circles mixing hypnotically with the sense of aliveness that comes from the sound of all those combined voices and pounding feet and waving arms and jumping legs.

But it’s also regular time, which has continued to pass as we mark Jewish time. Many Jews do not know very much about the rest of the Tishrei holidays, once the fast is over, the bagels and lox are hoovered up, and their beds beckon. And many who do know cannot have the time off to celebrate them properly. Most people, if they are not self-employed or do not work in the Jewish world, have to husband their days off; when holidays all fall during the work week, as they did this year, many people find that taking those days off are a luxury they simply cannot afford.

Also, of course, babies cry and sleep and eat and grow on their own schedules, not the outside world’s or the Jewish world’s. Popes visit major metropolitan areas without consulting Jewish calendars, and politicians continue to campaign, making wild promises and putting their feet in their mouths without checking with us first. The world continues to spin on its course.

Now, as we prepare to leave Jewish time for a few months — as we at the Standard look forward with some pleasure to the resumption of regular weeks, without the Sundays in the office to compensate for the Mondays and Tuesdays spent elsewhere — we look back in gratitude to the last month, when we have been allowed the great joy of living in two kinds of time at once.

About the Author
Joanne is the editor of the Jewish Standard and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two dogs, so she has firsthand knowledge of two thriving and idiosyncratic Jewish communities. (Actually that's three communities, if you also count the dog people.)