Tuesday, October 4, 2011

New Year in a New Way

Here's the thing about breaking with Orthodoxy but still having respect for your heritage: every time a Jewish holiday comes along, you get to create your own way of celebrating it.

I took off for Rosh Hashanah this year as I did last year. However, while last year I attended an Orthodox shul and invited a friend over for a small apples/challah-and-honey meal, this year I decided to be a little more adventurous.

I had two Rosh Hashanah meals. The first was all Jews (all non-Orthodox) that incorporated guitars and absurd versions of Jewish songs I knew. The second was mostly non-Jews (along with a few non-practicing Jews) and involved cooking lots of traditional Jewish food -- the most fun I've had with cooking in a while.

But the crux of the holiday for me was actually -- believe it or not -- the service I went to. That is, I signed myself up for a seat at a Renewal service. This was a serious break for me. While I've gone to Renewal services once before, it was on a random Friday night, not Rosh Hashanah (the bigwig of Jewish holidays and thus something I used to feel -- whether or not I would've admitted it -- should be celebrated in an Orthodox context).

This service totally blew me out of the water. Really. I wasn't sure what to expect but I came out feeling like I'd had a real experience, like I was actually starting a new year. It was so, so different than anything Orthodox.

At a point in the service, the leader stopped to have everyone say "Shana tova" to each other and hug/shake hands. (This is similar to what I've seen in some church services I've been to and it's really nice -- why don't the Orthodox do it? There's no reason they couldn't.)

They incorporated really meaningful pieces from other traditions -- a Gaelic blessing, a Rumi poem, but still had some of the traditional aspects of RH services like shofar blowing. One prayer was accompanied by swaying/dancing and holding hands.

But for me the highlight of the night was a guided meditation. The leader had us all sit and close our eyes. She then told us to contemplate the last year of our lives, think about what we want to let go, and then send it off. Now as you know, the last year of my life has been fraught with particularly difficult changes and so for me, this was really overpowering and cathartic. I saw everything that had happened with my ex, all the emotional baggage that I'd been carrying, and I let myself let it go. At this point I was actually crying.

She then told us to imagine a hallway with a doorway at the end of it with light pouring through and that there were three words emblazoned on the top of the door, that we should take these words to heart and walk through the doorway into the coming year. The words that I saw were these: "I love you." And I realized that these were words from myself to myself, and that this finally was what I needed to carry through into the following year.

That in spite of the way everything fell apart with my ex, in spite of the fact that I am constantly feeling at risk of losing my parents'/siblings' love for breaking the tradition in too extreme a way (which I will go further into in a later post hopefully), I need to be able to love myself for where I am and who I am and what I have come to believe (or not believe). That I need also to let go of that judgmental twelve-year-old that lives inside me who judges me in a way that I would never dream of judging others.

The meditation culminated in a recitation of Shema, which felt really incredible to me -- not because I buy into what Shema means but because I could feel myself, the adult, repeating the words I'd said as a young child and feel those two pieces of who I am colliding into one.

This was the most powerful Rosh Hashanah experience I'd ever had in my life. Including when I was a believing, practicing Orthodox girl, including the Rosh Hashanah I spent in Israel. I mean I actually cried at a Rosh Hashanah service. Cried. And left feeling truly like I had a clearer understanding of myself and that I was starting anew and fresh -- which really is what the holiday is supposed to be about.

So on that note, happy new year, everyone.


chaynobody said...

Wow! Your feeling comes across so strongly in your words.
May this coming year bring you greater fulfillment and happiness in finding your way.
You are lucky to have such friends to share your thoughts and hopes with.

Philo said...

That sounds beautiful & powerful. And you describe it so vividly. And it makes me wonder, why am I davening in an Orthodox shul (albeit a very modern one) on the yamim noraim with the women on the other side of a barrier, and a traditional style chazan wailing oyoyoy! It does nothing for me, and I ended up spending most of RH in shul just reading some stuff I had printed out.

I do like my shul and the people there very much on a regular Shabbat, but RH there wasn't meaningful to me at all.

Maybe I'll go to the campus minyan in my city for Yom Kipur instead of my shul. Only it's a 45 minute walk while fasting...

Philo said...

Oh, and Shana Tova uMetuka!

On Her Own said...

Thanks, Chaynobody and Philo! Philo -- I hope you are able find a Yom Kippur service that is meaningful for you. Shana tovah u'metukah to you both!