Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll
Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll
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Under my lemon tree

In the holiday rush, bemoaning the days with no school and the many meals to cook, I pause and breathe deep, for nothing inspires me like the air of the Land of Israel in Tishrei
Our sukkah, near the lemon tree. (courtesy)
Our sukkah, near the lemon tree. (courtesy)

It’s 6:45 on Yom Kippur morning and I am in my backyard.

My neighbor is hosting a minyan in his yard, which means that, for the first time in over 20 years, I might just be able to attend every Yom Kippur prayer service. And this from my lawn chair.

I’m listening to the chazzan through the ficus trees and watching bumble bees as they dip in and out of the little yellow flowers blooming on my son’s watermelon plant (he’d hoped for a Sukkot watermelon, but it’s currently the size of a ping pong ball).

The watermelon. (courtesy)

It’s entrancing, following the bees as they skim over leaves and vines to find the flowers. They know exactly where to go and what to do. Over and over, they find the flowers. Full of purpose, they go in and out. Pollinate. Move on.

And I think… How wonderful to know one’s purpose. To have such a clear part in the way the world works.

The birds are out too. On the roofs and in the trees, they call to one another and sing their songs. Some are melodic and easy to imagine as part of the prayers. Others are horribly discordant, even shrill. But I recognize that they all have a part to play.

The birds and the bees… I guess that’s where the expression comes from. Just a natural part of life.

Like the words of the prayers. Life.

Who will live and who will die. Who by fire and who by plague. Who by water and who by sword.

In that quiet of early morning, I’m alone with my thoughts. The world seems still. The possibilities endless. And the questions unlimited.

Life. Death. Self. Community.

The lemon tree nearby is heavy with fruit. Green, for now. Next year’s crop will be holy, after growing during the sabbatical year.

And I think: How blessed am I to be here in my land. With my people. A nation returned and struggling to grow, to forge a modern state on its ancient rules.

The words of the prayers recall the services performed by the priests in the Temple in Jerusalem, 2,000 years ago. We say them because we cannot perform them.

They were put in place by rabbis of old to preserve us as a nation, and so they did.

I thank Ishay Ribo who recently put these ancient words into modern music. They help me connect more than I’ve ever been able to do. Making the descriptions more relevant, expressing them in language that I can better understand.

I hum his tunes as I read the words.

Achat ve-achat… achat u-shetayim ..

What can the sprinkling of sacrificial blood mean to us today? How can we connect to such a thing?

I realize that it means now what it meant then. We are one people.

The service of the high priest atoned not for himself or his family alone, but for the entire nation. All of us at once. Our fates are tied

Together, we lived. Or together, we died.

One goat for all of our sins.

One service for all our people.

I live here in the land of my people. In a home smaller than I might have had in the country of my birth, the United States. In a language that I have not mastered. In a culture that frustrates me at times.

And I could not be happier.

My fate is tied to my people’s.

My future exists only with theirs

It is not for me to complain and want it to be different. It is for me to build it.

My lemon tree will give its lemons. And I will announce them “hefker” — ownerless. Because of the sabbatical year.

The lemon tree, with its green lemons. (courtesy)

But they are not ownerless. They belong to everyone.

Just as this land belongs to us. And we belong to it.

There is no more beautiful shul, no more inspiring service, no more moving sermon than the sights, the sounds, the air of the Land of Israel in Tishrei.

There is no more blessed person than she who does her errands while passing rows and rows of sukkot (built in every nook and cranny), vying with others for that last container of milk, wondering how on Earth there can be yet another day off from school — and more meals to cook.

My sukkah awaits, close to, but not under, the lemon tree, ready to surround us, encompass us, protect us, remind us, as we listen to our neighbors’ tunes and songs — some as Ashkenazi as they come, others with the Sephardic lilt — that we are one. We are here, and we, like the birds and the bees, all have our parts to play. May we merit to fulfill them.

About the Author
Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll is a writer and an activist. Cofounder of chochmatnashim.org She loves her people enough to call out the nonsense. See her work at skjaskoll.com
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