High Holy Days

In general on September 19, 2012 at 7:53 pm

In this family, and by family I am including my mother and brother, the High Holy Days bring a bit of angst.  What could possibly be the problem, you ask?  Three differing ideas about how to celebrate along with the sadness surrounding the loss of the matriarch/patriarch of the family (Gaga and Papa).  If my grandparents were still alive we would most likely all go to temple, all spend the entire day together and eat a fantastic dinner that only my grandmother could have prepared.  But that is not all.  Dinner preparations would have begun a week in advance, from planning out the menu to setting the table.  We would all be nestled in the coziness of their dining room, the lights dimmed as Gaga lit the candles and recited the blessing, the warm fall sun setting behind my grandfather as he sat stoically at the head of the table.  The light spreading out from behind him and filling the room with a sense of  pride, love and peace.  For the three of us (my mom, brother and myself) this is what the holiday should be like.  The absence of my grandparents, my brother living far away and my own personal experiences living in Israel have led us all to different needs/desires for the holidays.  My mother wants to embody my grandmother and continue to attempt to create the holidays by strongly encouraging us to go to temple and have a family dinner.  My brother is an atheist and the only holiday he as any interest in celebrating is Passover.  I want a cultural experience; one much like I experienced while living in Israel.  A day willed with family, good food and traditions I had never known before.  These traditions are not devoid of religion (different blessings said over different foods symbolic for the holiday; circular year, sweetness, fertility, etc.).  They simply do not take place at temple.  They happen as a family; together.  It is a challenge for my mother to accept that her children do not want to try to continue to have what we had in the past.  It is a challenge for my brother and I to help her to see that time is over and that we must find new ways to move forward without trying to do everything their way.  I am not even sure if my mom really understands why she goes to temple other than that it is what her parents did.  For as important as Judaism was to my grandparents (they both grew up in Orthodox families), they did as most families did in the ‘40’s… they tried to assimilate themselves and their children as much as possible.  My mother and my aunt did not go to Sunday School at the local synagogue.   Neither of them had a Bat Mitzvah.  Neither had ever been to Israel.  Yes, they were part of a Jewish youth group.  Yes, they celebrated all the major holidays.  Yes, they felt Jewish.  But there was no formal Jewish education.  On the flip side, my brother and I did go to Sunday School.  My brother had a Bar Mitzvah and I had a Bat Mitzvah.  I worked at a Jewish summer camp, taught Sunday School and spent a year in Israel.  I’ve even taught Hebrew to 6th graders.  I know exactly why I should be at temple at this time of year.  I simply would prefer to celebrate in a different way.  In a way that is more personal and makes more sense to me.  Even though this flies in the face of why I should go to temple (to stand together as a community and ask forgiveness from G-d for the sins we have committed towards Him/her).  I do understand it all.  But growing up reform left me a bit dubious about organized religion.  Maybe it was just our temple, but I felt so lacking for information.  The High Holy Days always felt more like a fashion show than they did days to reflect on our lives and look to do better.  These days felt more like they were about who donated money to the temple than those who were not in a position to do so.  And on top of that…  there was so much they did not teach us.  My year in Israel taught me that.  The purist in me came out and I was a bit lost.  Not knowing what I was supposed to trust.  And while I cannot definitely tell you that there is a G-d, I do believe that there is some sort of higher power out there that has had a hand in creating life as we know it.  Unlike my brother who has decided, for reasons unknown to me, to pretty much despise being Jewish and to not believe in any kind of higher power.  Maybe it was being shy and not having many friends in Sunday School.  Maybe it was his medical school training or the crazy (in my opinion) Jewish neighbor he had during his residency that was an extreme anti-Zionist protestor.  I do not know for sure what led him down this path.  All I know is that now, the 3 of us, are all in a different place when it comes to celebrating the holidays.  And it matters, a lot.  But, if Gaga and Papa were here… well, we would all come together despite our differing ideas.  We may act disgruntled about having to be there.  Mom may treat us like children for making a fuss.  But we would all be there.  And not one of us could complain about the food, the love we felt for one another or that was being washed over us.  None of us would have anything negative to say or feel about that warm glow of the sunset over Grandpa’s shoulders or the coziness and familiarity of that dining room and Gaga’s traditions.  We would simply be happy.


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