By Rabbi Julie Wolkoff. D.Min., CT
This year, for perhaps the first time in my life, I was not looking forward to the Holy Days. When I was a congregational rabbi, I approached these days with a mixture of excitement (a new year; new programs,) anticipation (the music that we only hear at this time of year,) terror (would my sermons be meaningful; would they speak to anyone’s needs and concerns,) and exhaustion. As a day school rabbi, I had school-wide schedules to modify to make room for extended prayers and special programs to plan. As the High Holy Day rabbi for the additional services at a local congregation, I would be running myself ragged to coordinate all that I needed to do for Yontif while doing my day job. And for the past 5 years as a congregant in the pews, I focused on Rosh Hashana lunch with family and friends while having the privilege of being spiritually moved by words and music that were so familiar, yet ever new when I was blessed to be able to listen and let them flow over me.
This year would be different. I would still be surrounded by words and music that stirred my soul. I would have friends and family sitting with me. But this year I would be sitting without my husband, z”l. We wouldn’t be working together to set up our Rosh Hashana lunch and complaining about how much work it was, and then enjoying the long afternoon with family and friends. Nor would we be away for Yontif, celebrating in a foreign country as we had been talking about and beginning to plan last spring.
This year I was dreading the words of the Mahzor: “On Rosh Hashana it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed: How many shall pass on, how many shall come to be; who shall live and who shall die.” It turned out that Un’tnah Tokef was not the prayer that brought me to tears. Instead I was brought to a halt by the additions to Shalom Rav in the evening service, as the cantor sang, asking that we be remembered and inscribed in “Book of Life, Blessing, Peace and Livelihood.” So for Un’tnah Tokef, I knew to focus on the music, the cantor’s voice, and thoughts of “repentance, prayer, and charity” while accepting that I would not be able to read aloud the words “who shall see ripe age and who shall not.”
This year I didn’t find my New Year in the words and music I know so well. I didn’t find it in the family traditions or holy day rituals. I found it instead in an old / new ritual and in an article on letting go of our “what if scenarios” when we look at the future. As I read the article, I realized that I don’t want my life or my New Year to be filled with worries, with “what ifs.” I know that what we worry about rarely comes to pass, at least not in the form that we have spend hours obsessing and worrying over. I also know that worrying triggers stress and stress is unhealthy for our bodies and our souls. I have spent the past few months feeling the effects of grief on my body and soul; I don’t want to layer the effects of worry on top of that.
Instead of creating “what if scenarios,” I want to live in the world of “what is.” Rather than worry about what might come to pass, I want to ground myself firmly in the experiences that are taking place in my life. I want this year to be one where I learn and grow and change from what happens – good and bad, error-filled, and unexpected. I want a year open to unexpected blessings and moments of grace.
This morning I found my New Year at Mayyim Hayyim. As I immersed in the mayyim hayyim, the living waters of Mayyim Hayyim, I let go of the past year. I thought about how it changed me and shaped me. I reflected on the uncertainty that comes with a new year, and with every day of our lives. I prayed for peace, for healing, for direction, and for clarity. With each immersion I found myself more at peace with the new realities of my life and more open to see and experience what this year brings.
I don’t expect that the mikveh will magically make Yom Kippur and Yizkor easier. I know there will still be tears and sorrow and a deep awareness of loss. But I have found my New Year. I hold its blessings, its promises, and its hope in my heart. I look forward to what it will bring.
May we all be blessed with a year filled with happiness and joy, celebration and simcha, love and health and healing, spiritual sustenance, and peace for us and all the world. May the sweetness of the Holy Days spread through every day of the year. May our blessings and our gratitude for them increase exponentially, filling our days to overflowing.
שנה טובה ומתוקה
Rabbi Julie Wolkoff, D.Min., CT, is a hospice chaplain in Massachusetts and a past co-president of the WRN. Find her blogging her way through grief at: http://fabricfiber.wordpress.com/