Wednesday, September 8, 2010

L'shana Tovah

I love fall. I can’t really explain what it is about it, but it’s something that I feel in every inch of my body. It’s this feeling of being really intensely alive. Know when you’re sitting someplace quiet—like church, or class, or a meeting—and all of a sudden, a giggle rises up out of the pit of your stomach for no apparent reason and just won’t go away? It’s kind of like that, except it’s a giggle that fills every part of my body. The sunshine, the breeze, the smell of fall that is too rich to be captured in words, it’s like walking into my grandmother’s house, taking a bite of my mom’s best lentil soup, or waking up slowly with the sunlight streaming in your window, warm under the blankets on a cold morning. Fall is like coming home to a place in my soul I have been away from for far too long.

Maybe it’s because I’m an October baby that fall feels so wonderful. Maybe it’s because it reminds me of all the places I have been in the fall, all the walks I’ve taken, all the new things I have begun. Maybe in some past life, fall had some really special meaning, I don’t know, but I do know that it has always been this way. When I think of previous autumns, the first thing that comes to mind was being around 10 years old, and sitting with my mom and two younger sisters at the kitchen table “doing school,” whatever that meant for us as homeschoolers at the time. It was around 10 or 11 in the morning, we were all still in our pajamas, and mom was trying to get me to focus on my spelling words. The doors were all open and there was a breeze outside that was coming in and bringing the fall smell inside with it. It was later in the season than it is now—probably mid to late October. As mom was trying to get me to focus on the spelling, I was staring out the window at the birds and squirrels on the back porch, watching the trees, looking at the sky, when suddenly, I remember saying, “LOOK!”

The leaves in the backyard were swirling and flying and being swept up in gusts that kept them aloft for long periods of time, making them dance as if they, too, we filled with joy at the brilliance of the day. My mom and my sisters looked, and my mother sighed. “Go ahead,” she said, closing the spelling book.

I jumped up, skidding my chair backwards a few feet on the floor, and ran outside, barefoot, in my pajamas, through the front yard, around the side of the house, jumped over the hole by the garden, around the back of the house, and just stood in the middle of all the swirling, looking up at the blue sky dotted between the red, yellow, and brown leaves of the trees above me. My sisters followed soon after, dancing and jumping and screaming and laughing. “Wow, do this!” they laughed, throwing leaves into the air. “Look at me flying!” “Watch this big leaf!” I remember closing my eyes while looking up, trying to tune them out: I just wanted to stand in the silence and hear the wind. There was a vague dizziness from closing my eyes that made me smile, and I can remember just feeling that intense aliveness flow through me then. It felt as though my heart was so full of joy, the joy had to be spilling out and radiating into the world. It probably was.

I came inside when the wind died down and wrote a poem that has since disappeared into the place in the universe reserved for the lost thoughts of 10 year old girls. Part of me wishes I knew what I wrote then, what my thoughts in the moment were, rather than the thoughts of the 24 year old me imposed on the 10 year old in my memory. On the other hand, it doesn’t really matter, though. The joy, the wonder, the comfort is still there all the same.

One of the things I love about Unitarian Universalism is being able to take pieces of various religions and incorporate them into my life. One of the things I love about being half Jewish is that Judaism is easily a part of my religious repertoire, so to speak. While the intricacies of the religion and the holidays elude me to a large extent, Judaism for me is the feelings associated with my big, overwhelming, loud, Jewish family. It’s a feeling that smells like too many aunts with too much perfume; sounds like a combination of Hebrew, Yiddish, and Baltimore-ese; and tastes like Aunt Faygie’s kugel, gefilte fish from Lenny’s deli, and Bubby’s charoset and matzo ball soup.

Today marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year. One of the “high holy days,” Rosh Hashanah is a day of remembrance and a day of judgment. Seeing as my conceptualization of god is a little different, and I don’t really get into the whole “day of judgment” book of death vs. book of life thing, I do like the idea of this beautiful day in fall as being the beginning of a new year. For some reason, this time of year just makes more sense to me to be a new start. As I am falling into the autumn months, I am noticing how alive I feel, because it is no longer something I take for granted. The blueness of the sky, the color of the sunshine on the leaves, the way the sun feels on my shoulders—I never could have imagined that there would be a time when these things felt empty. I feel I was cheated--or perhaps cheated myself--out of much of spring and summer by missing these things. It took me coming home to fall to be able to feel god again. Perhaps it is the memory of the 10-year-old me radiating joy outside in the leaves that awakened me. Perhaps it is the love I have for her, who had no shame, no inhibition, nothing between herself and her delight in the universe that held her safely in its hands. Walking today, I remembered again that I still hurt, but realized that, maybe, if I let it, the universe will hold me again, safely and securely. As I let the sun and the breeze and the smells fill me, I realized that maybe I can also love the 24-year-old me, who still has moments of silent joy radiation.

Maybe I just need a new beginning. Maybe I just want a "do-over" for the last few months. Maybe I'm homesick and missing Maryland in the fall, missing going to Bubby's house for high holy days. But I also know that, even though I didn't eat them at Bubby's table, the apples and honey I ate with lunch tasted right, and gave me hope in this moment that things will be sweeter in the next few months than they have in the past few. If I listen hard enough, I can almost hear my grandmother's voice saying "It's going to be a good year, Baruch HaShem, we'll all have a good, sweet year, and we've all got good health, so kenahora, right? L’shana Tovah, hon."

L'shana Tovah!


  1. You may only be half Jewish, but you're more Jewish than I am if you knew how to spell L'shana Tova, or what it meant. lol the only way I know it's the High Holidays is if I see them being advertised at Whole Foods. Nevertheless, happy new year, and I hope it is a better one for you :)

  2. Happy New Year, Laura. Hope it is a great one!