A child in a medical mask during a coronavirus pandemic

Corona Rosh Hashanah

Corona Rosh Hashana is not an altogether odd experience.  I have no sentiments or foreboding, any different than those of every other year. I never go to shul on Rosh Hashana anyway. I gave up long, long ago. 

It has to be either a day of prayer and introspection, which of course includes caring for and feeding the children.  Or a day of dressing all my kids, making sure they stay clean, keeping them quiet in shul, which is impossible, therefore a day of leaving shul and spending hours in the “Hebrew” park with all the Spanish nannies, the other kids who don’t miraculously behave in shul, and the tiny demented ants that dwell there. 

Then running back for the shofar.  With all the “littles.”  Who had to stay clean in the park. But didn’t. There’s no point in my going to shul on Rosh Hashana.

I used to go listen to the shofar during the women’s hour… but that meant that I still had to dress all my kids and schlep them down there to hand them over to their father in the muggy, deep heat of late September; possibly missing the Shofar anyway, and certainly missing a quiet, serene tefila; a grateful few minutes over coffee and a book on the sofa, and cozy moments with my oddly, but happily dressed little guys.  No frills, no fuss, no sweat, no rush. 

No clenched teeth, growling, crazy -eyed mama. Just happy, lazy, huggy, tefilah-singing, pyjama -mama.

I used to twist myself into an anxious, swearing rag, to get us all there just in time.  Pristine children, sheitel, heels, double buggy stocked with all the essentials that looked like they had been prepared ahead of time, but of course, were not, and so that led to an increased heart rate that resembled an incensed bull’s…I did usually cry pretty sincerely at the first meek blast of the shofar; but I’m not sure it was repentance. Probably just sincere grief.  I used to think strong, guttural thoughts about the other women in their creamy dry skin, sheitels sleek and totally intact; not at all sticking to the backs of their necks or stuffed in determined tiny fists and plunged into waiting, rooting mouths… 

“Dear. L-rd.” is what I whispered into my siddur. “Save me.”

I hid my face in that musty, pungent, clove-tinged scent of the well worn pages, and just breathed.  And listened to the shofar, trying to even out my pulse, willing  it to match the pace of the Teruah. Slow and steady… Slow and sturdy and steady.  

When it was over, my husband walked proudly home with his well dressed brood, I pretended  to stride not too far behind, faking easy small talk with the women walking in our direction;  dying to end the charade and collapse through my front door.
My mind could not wrap itself around the concept of Teshuva.  It’s so totally foreign to my Rosh Hashana synagogue -going experience.

I’m selfishly grateful for the High Holidays Corona protocols, because they seem custom tailored to my present needs.  Aside from the fact that they save lives,  they save teshuva.  They save us from hating the way we live our lives on the day we are supposed to beg for more life. 

They insist we stay home humbly; occupied with the simple things in life, the basic protocols that make up healthy living and nurturing which we’ve replaced with heaps of trending expectations.  From what makes a mother efficient and an effective parent, to what’s considered the perfect amount of chessed outside the house, and what is enabling and paralyzing the recipient… From what is considered holy preparation for a holiday, to what is overkill, and showing off.From what is considered the appropriate ratio of love to discipline, to how damning a plastic tablecloth protector will be to our children’s future marriage prospects.

I don’t know how Ba’alei Teshuva can ever integrate into our society with all its unspoken, insane and sometimes inane expectations and assumptions.  We have a lot on our plates, and we are supposed to “get on with it” but also be “totally with it,” while what’s considered “with it” changes by the day.

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Am I the only one asking, how?  Or, even, why?

Rosh Hashanah is creeping up on us, and my thoughts turn to their usual dark places.  I reflect on the losses and the outcomes which our prayers on previous Rosh Hashanas did not save us from. Or rather, that they were the results of our ultimate prayers being answered: That G-d guides us towards the redemption; our personal perfection; our national mission.

I then continue to wonder about how the good seems good but might not be so and vice versa.. and from there, there’s no telling where I’ll go…

This year I have unhindered access to my deepest, darkest musings, and I find that lately, they lead to lightness of spirit and hope.   I follow my beliefs to their Source, and ponder Him, and all that we are within all of this.  I contemplate our tiny, dust-like insignificant presence, and why it should mean so much to Our Magnificent, All Powerful Creator, and I feel humbled, but very loved.

I want Him to be happy with me.  Simply.

And I’m thrilled to realize that all these reflections and meditations are fundamental principles of Teshuva.
The lack of pre Yom Tov shopping and rushing and blow-drying and having to convince our tweens that rust really is the new black, or arguing over which sets of in laws to go to for which meals, strips the dwindling days of this year down to the essential preparations necessary for facing my Maker, with some of the grandest, most basic requests a human can ever ask for.

The Corona-era Rosh Hashana doesn’t feel different.  I’ll be worried about the year my children will face, I’ll play monopoly, make salad and nap as much as I can.I’ll beg for life and health and the wisdom to help them with math homework. I’ll beg for abundant food and satiation and the strength to wake up at the crack of dawn for the duration of the year,  so that at least some days they’ll be on time for school or their ortho appointments.

I’ll ask Him to help me and be patient with me. 

I know exactly what I make Him put up with.

I’ll tell Him over and over and over again, how very much I love Him.

To all of you: Shana Tova Umetouka/ A perfectly healthy, happy New Year.