High Holiday Hangover

Last year was the first year I truly felt it.  The burn out, the exhaustion, the eager anticipation of the wrap up of festivities and eventual quietness that is left behind.  I know most Jews (or at least most Jews I know thing of the high holidays as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but Rosh Hashanah is really just a kick off for what is over three weeks of celebrating one holiday or another, ending on Simchat Torah.  From the apples and honey, to the dance around the unraveled Torah, for families who celebrate it all, it’s a whirlwind.

This year, it was even more evident.  Each holiday presents it’s own opportunities for mitzvahs, some more fun to perform than others, with plenty of opportunities to be a host and a guest.  If you are lucky, you have people over or visit homes to share each occasion.  When we finally took down our Sukkah decorations this year, it left an obvious void.  It left our pergola looking sad and lonesome and our hearts a little bit empty too.

We were able to perform the mitzvah of having guests at our home (Ushpizin) so much this year, that taking down all of the decoration we put up to host those guests, made it feel as though it never happened.  I guess that’s the blessing of mitzvah, how it fills your heart, even if you don’t expect it to, even when it’s more work, set up, cooking and clean up than you wanted to deal with.  The magic moments when others are enjoying your Sukkah, when you blow the shofar, when you break the fast, when you dance and sing and drink around the long, open, beautiful blessing that is our Torah, those magic moments fill you in a way that none other can.

We fill our hearts with mitzvah magic and do it SO much in such a short time, it really does leave a void.  Maybe it works out that way to allow us to reflect on what just happened and how we can keep those magic moments going all year long.  Maybe we need an intense, tiring new year to keep our hearts full of passion and joy and thoughtfulness as long as possible, before they start to fade and slip back into our day to day ways.  Maybe it can inspire us to create more magic more often.  I know it will for me.

How will I handle my high holiday hangover?  With a healthy dose of Rosh Chodesh.  Because, although it’s not something I normally celebrate, why not?  There’s magic in the moon and mitzvah in my heart.

May the Schwartz Be With You

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Where Disney meets Yom Kippur

I’m not really sure how I never noticed it before.  Maybe because the link was never pointed out to me as a child and now only as a parent am I so immersed in Disney culture that I’ve noticed it.  Maybe G-d was sending me a message through my oldest, who on the long trip from temple to our break-the-fast chose Pinocchio of the half dozen movie options available to him.  How did I not see the link between Pinocchio and Jonah?

I was really hoping he would pick any other movie, Monsters U, Lilo & Stitch, Peter Pan, etc… I was a little disappointed, but I only have to listen to the movie, he’s the one watching it.  I have always thought Pinocchio was one of the scarier Disney movies.  Pinocchio’s series of bad decisions led to some scary situations for a child to be in.  Usually Disney will start with a scary moment, have one or two more leading up to or at the climax and then, bang bam boom, happy ending.  Pinocchio is more like a scary sandwich, with feel good as the bread and a whole lot of naughty in between.

Jonah, also an example of a whole lot of naughty.  Ignoring the direct request from G-d to set the Assyrians on the path of righteousness, running in the opposite direction, because why should he care about saving the bullies of his region?  Why would Pinocchio go to school, when becoming a famous actor was surely more fun?  They run as fast and far as they can, away from their responsibilities, but eventually, both end up calling out for their Father.

They both had to find themselves in the belly of a whale to “get it”. Even when Pinocchio is found by the blue fairy, he lies instead of confessing he’s been naughty.  Being given the chance to do what’s right, he still shirks from the path of righteousness.  Jonah and Pinocchio both had others to save.  Who is Jonah to decide that the Assyrians (even if he despised them) were unworthy of G-d’s salvation?  Pinocchio and Jonah both prove we are only “real” when we try to save others, when we do G-d’s work, when we are the best version of ourselves that we can be.  And isn’t that what Yom Kippur is all about?

So this year, if you have young children, share the stories of Pinocchio and Jonah and talk about how they compare and how we can spend our efforts on holy, virtuous endeavors in the Jewish year ahead. Gmar Chatima Tovah: May you be inscribed for good and may the whale spit you out on dry land.

May the Schwartz Be With You

Pinocchio And Jonah by David Ronald Bruce Pekrul

Pinocchio and Jonah met in the Square,
They both were complaining, “It just isn’t fair,
That both our Creators would show little justice,
By treating us both like two little puppets.”

For God had a job for Jonah to do,
But he wouldn’t do it and said he was through,
Having strings being pulled both this way and that,
So he jumped on a ship like a spoiled little brat.

Pinocchio wanted to be a small boy,
But Geppetto was pulling his strings like a toy,
Instead of obeying, he tried to rebel,
But his nose started growing and people could tell.

They both ended up in the guts of a whale,
And all they could do was tread water and bail,
And think how they struggled when God tried to teach,
Until they were finally tossed onto a beach.

Let’s listen real well as we hear this sad tale,
Of Pinocchio, Jonah and Mostro the whale,
And learn a great lesson, to do as we should,
Whether we are a person or made out of wood.

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When Yom Kippur Goes Bad

Yom Kippur 5776, I had the worst experience of my entire life at a temple, EVER. Worse than the time I was completely ignored by every single congregant while checking out a new temple, worse than fainting on the bimah, worse than anything I could really ever imagine experiencing in a Jewish community.  One that I had mostly experienced as being welcoming and comforting. Here is most of what I wrote to my new Rabbi in response to the traumatic day.

Hello,
I have to say it’s Sunday and the first day I have not been in tears about my experience at the family service on Yom Kippur at your Temple. So I think now is a good time to put my thoughts and feelings into an email….
…My husband was out of town for Yom Kippur, so I figured that since you offered a family service, I could attend with my boys and have a good experience of being able to hear the ashamnu and the usual inspiring and introspective words you would expect to hear for the holiday and have the boys experience it too.  At the temple we just ended our membership at, family services were for children of all ages and the quiet room was for children who were crying or screaming loudly and it was expected that children might be out of their seats or in the aisles, having fun while still being a part of the service in the synagogue. Since I assumed the family service was for all families, I assumed I would be able to attend with my 1 and 3 year old, without my husbands assistance and have 1 hour of a Yom Kippur service before going to break the fast in West LA. 
I arrived and sat in front of 2 ladies I know who work at the JCC, who were lovely and seemed very understanding of the fact that my young boys were standing instead of sitting, singing along with the choir, which they loved and being as good as you could expect a 1 and 3 year old to be. 
Unfortunately, a few of the other congregation members were not understanding at all. I was getting repeated nasty looks from a lady on my right and it became so disturbing, I stood up to collect my children. My plan was to use the quiet room as a “time out” room for my oldest until he decided he wanted to be back in the synagogue, enjoying the service. As I was about to reach for my youngest, a gentleman decided to come across the aisle to tell me that there was a quiet room and directed me to its location. A second indication that we were not welcomed at this “family” service. 
I shook it off and decided the back row would be best for us once my son was ready to rejoin the service. Unfortunately, the back row was so far from the choir and instruments that my oldest quickly lost interest and began running in circles with his brother (as quietly as possible) in the back area. 
It was not ideal, but at least I tried to do something meaningful with my family on Yom Kippur.  After about 5 minutes of being in the back row, another gentleman decided to let me know that babysitting was available for children under 5. That’s when I lost it. I burst into tears and left the service early. The message was clear: you and your family should not be here. It was by FAR the worst experience I’ve had at any temple in my 37 years of life. 
I was leaving the temple sobbing as a “greeter” outside said goodbye to me without asking if I was ok, if I needed help, like I was a normal sight to see. Also, very disappointing. I know you, as temple staff, are not responsible for all of the actions your members make and I have been (in the spirit of Yom Kippur) trying to give the people who made me feel so unwelcome, the benefit of the doubt, maybe they were trying to be helpful or maybe they were testy from fasting. I don’t know, but I forgive them. 
I have talked to other Jewish parents with children the same age as my kids and they also indicated the family service was not for all families and that they would not return to that service until their kids were much older. This is a stark contrast to the programming you offer that I’ve experienced thus far, which has been very welcoming and inclusive. I plan on spending the rest of this year attending as many family events as I can. After Wednesday, I can’t guarantee we will be members in 5777, but I am keeping an open mind for now. 
Since you don’t know me that well, I will say that I’m not a “crier” (which makes the fact that I cried for 4 straight days significant) and that I will never complain without making suggestions on how things could be better. A few suggestions:
Encourage the family service to be truly family friendly, encourage children to be in the aisles and crate an atmosphere where lively, childlike, yet respectful behavior is encouraged. 
Or
Create a separate “tot” service in a separate room or facility with either the family service live streamed in or someone else leading the service and indicate service in the synagogue as for children 6 and up. 
Or
Keep things as they are and at least put on the service description as for kids six and up. Or 8 and up, whatever age you expect children to sit quietly for an hour during service. 
If I had known what to expect, I never would have gone, which is disappointing. The whole experience was disappointing. Ask yourselves How many other members (families with young children) are feeling alienated on the most holy day of the year? 
Sincerely…
Ugh.  Even rereading it brings back the feelings of rejection and disgust. How much I believed that the universe was telling me we had made a horrible mistake in switching temples, but you know what?  I stuck with it.  I did Sukkot, Tot Shabbats and even Family Camp.  We had good experiences with families we liked for the rest of the year.  Amazingly, we even signed up for the Torah school, even though our son goes to a Jewish preschool.  Because the staff reached out to us, because they and the congregants encouraged and  supported us.  We found our new home and even though the one experience was frighteningly bad, it began to fade, until the High Holidays came sneaking around again.  I got my packet, shuddered and hid it in my inbox, putting it off as long as possible.  But guess what?  When I finally opened it, I was pleasantly surprised.
The temple added 4 new service options for kids grades K-8! This doesn’t apply to me right now, because my boys are too young, BUT they listened AND things changed.  Not really what I was expecting, but a lovely and heartwarming thing to see coming off a Yom Kippur with so many bad feelings (and not the normal bad feelings we should be having on Yom Kippur).  A lovely and heartwarming year of feeling like we may have a future here after all.  I expected the worst and got the best.
So for 5777, I’m going back to my old temple on Yom Kippur.  My husband is, again, out of town and I cannot bring myself to go back alone, to the same family service.  Maybe next year, but this year, I am at least sorry that I can’t bring myself to give it a second chance. Maybe next year, with confidence that because I shared my tribulation, I can expect the best and get it.
May the Schwartz Be With You
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5776, My Year of Connection

September brings lots of new years for me. It’s a new year of work, school, a new year for the Junior League, and the new Jewish year, 5776. Jews spend the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah (the New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) to reflect on the past year and make resolutions for the year ahead. They are called the Days of Awe, and I am definitely finding inspiration in them, without even intending to do so.

Since Monday, the first year of 5776, I have found that the universe has made me more connected than productive. On days that I would normally get a lot of computer or administrative work done, I have had one meaningful, deep, and insightful conversation after the other. Making my days not so productive, but very emotionally connected to the people around me.

I’ve been there for the colleague whose wife just called to tell him their marriage was over. I’ve had an extended chat with my girlfriend on how we make our marriages work with our busy lives.  I even connected with an old high school friend on what’s truly important, what we would change if we could and how much our friendship is valued by each other.

This might sound like a normal week for most, but not me.  I’m more of a “down to business” kind of gal, who’s not cold, per se, but definitely not the warmest coal on the heap.  Or at least I haven’t been, until now.  5776.  Oh, and did I mention my anniversary fell on New Year’s Eve? A coincidence I have tried not to overlook and even been more patient and attentive with my husband.

The other day, instead of worrying about how I was going to keep my boys busy for an hour I had alone with them, I just decided that cuddling and watching TV in the short hour that we had was enough. I want to relish these days when the boys are young and want to cuddle with me, instead of worrying about them getting too much screen time.

I plan on resolving this year to prioritize those meaningful conversations I have with people about the relationships in their lives over getting work done. I plan on taking the extra minutes I have to cuddle with my boys and just relax and recharge and let them know that I am physically there for them.

In 5776, I will let go of the need to plan every minute, to make every activity structured, to worry about what my fellow mommies and my husband would think. What matters is that I spend my time with my boys, my husband and my colleagues, connecting in ways that really matter.

5776, My Year of Connection.  May the Schwartz Be With You

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When Rosh Hashanah and Anniversary Collide

Many moons ago, when I started planning my wedding in the month of September, I had a lot to consider.  The weather, the fullness of the moon for our outdoor area, the theme, the dress, and of course, the High Holy Days.  We were semi-observant Jews, having a Jewish wedding, so we needed to have a Rabbi available and of course, wouldn’t want our guests to have to choose between temple and our special day.

Fast forward seven years later.  We have a billion things to be grateful for, as g-d has bestowed many blessings upon us; a fabulous house in a great neighborhood, 2 healthy sons, 2 spunky dogs and relatively enjoyable jobs that make ends meet.  Our marriage has been good, but the honeymoon is definitely over.

We still love each other very much, but have less patience for each other in day to day things.  He brings fewer flowers, I make less time to couch cuddle and we are less easygoing.  We are shorter and terser with each other.  Our intentions are good, but our years of marriage have given us history and annoyances that get recalled in our minds when the other says certain things.  Even if it was not intended as such, it’s easy to ask an innocent question that carries an emotional weight and leads to a charged conversation.

Luckily, my husband and I are good communicators and we have been successful at talking our way through challenging times and difficult feelings.  We have a strong marriage that we both want to be good, but how can it be great? How can we be better? How can we renew ourselves and our relationship? How about our 7th anniversary falling on Rosh Hashanah?  A day when we are already asking these questions anyway.

Rosh Hashanah is not just another Jewish holiday.  Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of humankind.  We believe we are all born again on this day.  We ask g-d how we can be better servants, parents, children, lovers and people.  How can we leave behind the old, undesirable habits and remake ourselves into people that would make hashem proud?  How do we head in the right direction?  How committed are we to the journey?  How do my husband and I take this opportunity to be the best partners possible in 5776?  How can I use the inspiration of the holiday intersecting with my anniversary to bring meaning and change to my marriage? We will need g-d’s help to make it happen and I’ll turn to the symbols and traditions of the holiday for inspiration.

The shofar: The shofar is sounded in three different patterns. The first is tekiah, one long note that is a call to turn away from our day-to-day routine and refocus on who we want to be. The next is teruah, a rapid series of short notes.  Its sound leads us to integrate the thoughts and reflections that come up at the New Year. Finally, shevarim, an anxious sound of three short calls. It’s the sound of our yearning to start again.

Tashlikh (“casting off”): We walk to water, preferably flowing, on the afternoon of the first day and throw small pieces of bread into the water, symbolically casting off our sins. What do I want to let go of and what will I hold onto?  I make the intention to let go of resentment, judgment and cynicism and hold onto love, compassion and tenderness.

The food:  We enjoy round sweet foods to reinforce our desire for a sweet whole, full year.  We dip apples in honey, eat round challah and pomegranates.  May this coming year, we be filled with as many mitzvahs as there are seeds in a pomegranate.

The point of it all, the prayers by the water, the shofar, the day of reflection, is that if we are on the right path and are committed to it, everything will be sweet.  God, the universe, our higher power will see to it.

Maybe the blessing of my anniversary falling on this holiday is simply a gentle reminder 7 years after the flames of our wedding, that as long as we are committed to being our best selves, to being the best parents and partners we can be (with our faults and all), we have a lot to celebrate.  Maybe we’ll have to have apples and honey more often throughout 5776, to remind us that each day of the year is an opportunity to be born anew.

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May the Schwartz be with you