Fair warning, this week’s post is very Jewish. This past week I observed the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) with my family and friends. If you ordinarily agonize about how fast the time goes, it might be better to use the old Hebrew calendar. It’s already year 5779 — and as the comedians say, I’m still writing 5778 on my checks.
Religion is always such a personal and even intimate topic that I’m not very comfortable discussing it in public. The sermons and readings did however, spark some ideas that I thought I’d bring up in this week’s top 5. And, as they said in the old Levy’s Rye Bread ads, you don’t have to be Jewish.
1. A fresh start. The new year is another opportunity to make positive changes. I take quite seriously the charge to review and learn from my mistakes both at the end of the calendar year, and at the beginning of the Jewish year. I don’t recall a time in which I didn’t write down some new year’s resolutions on December 31st. I don’t punish myself too much; the idea is to do better. At Rosh Hashanah, the prayerbook talks about getting “inscribed in the book of life” for another year, which I find hopeful. I don’t imagine a literal book, or a literal judge writing with a literal plume. I do like the idea of knowing that we are proceeding forward, without the threat of punishment, hell or damnation. (Isn’t life in 2018 hard enough?)
2. Cooking for family. I cooked brisket — pictured above — for a family dinner on Sunday night. All my Exhibits ™ were here; so were their significant others. My mother was in fine form. One of my brothers and his wife came too. Because the spare table was being used elsewhere, we were crowded around our round dinner table, which I love, because we were really together. Knee to knee. Exhibit D (Henry, the Dog) scavenging underneath. By the way, I used gluten-free flour with which to dust the brisket, and it was every bit as delicious as the regular stuff. (Note: I am learning to cook. I am not a natural at this, and being unintimidated by the challenged of cooking for my extended family was a new feeling for me.) I wish my whole family could have attended, but it was a wonderful feeling to be so close and warm and cozy. Also, Sunday was suddenly cold and rainy. Chicken soup, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, salad, cake and an apricot tart filled out the menu.
3. Thinking about the big questions. In his sermon, the rabbi suggested that the question that New Yorkers hurriedly face when refilling their Metrocards at the subway kiosks: Do you want more time or more value? is one that we should take another look at. That’s more than a matter of rides on public transportation; that’s the existential question we face all the time, whether we consider it or not. Time or Value? Live longer or live more meaningfully? I found the analogy smart, because I want to be reminded that I can be more focused (and positive) on a regular, frequent basis. As we all know, money makes life easier, but not necessarily happier. I truly believe that. Some of us were happier before our lives got bigger and more complicated. I want to live a good, productive, long life, but I recognize I have an ambivalent attitude towards getting older. (How could I not? Our culture celebrates the young, ignores the elderly, and vilifies the incapacitated.) In any case, I’m going to think about adding value to my life and those of my friends and family.
4. Liturgical music. That’s a thing I never thought I’d be writing about here. It does lift the spirits, and raise up the intensity of feeling, even if you don’t know all the words or melodies. I find some of the tunes haunting; they become my earworms for a few weeks. (In a good way. Not in an Abba way.)
5. Robert Mueller is not Jewish; I don’t know if he has any Jewish friends, but I’d be happy to take him to new year services next year.
As I close out this week, I urge you (especially friends in the southeast to)
Stay Dry and Act Natural,