“I really want a pastrami sandwich. Do you want to go to Chompie’s for dinner?” My brother asked after we finished our weekly yoga class. “I’m sick of dorm food. I just need to get away. I need a taste of home.” He sighed.
I drove us over to Chompie’s where we dined on pastrami sandwiches and chicken soup, followed by a traditional Black and White cookie for dessert. Bellies full and content, I got to thinking about traditions.
We are in preparations, we Jews, for the High Holy Days. Honey cakes and kefelach have been baked. Meats have been bought. Challah has been ordered. Dress clothes have been laid out. Prayer books have been dusted off. Apologies have been made. The shofar has begun to blow, alerting us to the coming of a New Year.
Perhaps in my own preparations, my mind has been keenly aware of the other traditions I often take for granted.
The countless b’nai mitzvah I have attended have begun to run together. Two weekends ago, an exception was made. It was the bar mitzvah of a former third grade student. This simcha (celebration) was different this time. It was solemn and humble. The focus was not on the raging, glitzy and expensive party that night, but on the ceremony. It was about this boy becoming a man in the Jewish community. As I listened to him chant I couldn’t help but think about this little boy; the little boy whose mother got onto him for wearing mix-matched socks for picture day. That little boy was taking part in a tradition that spanned centuries. This link to the past while also contemplating the future is what makes a bar or bat mitzvah so unique.
The traditions carried on through the next weekend. To kick off the high holidays I helped prepare my shul (synagogue) for the high holidays. As a part of this preparation we ushered in the new week with Havdalah. This is a special candle-lit service that ends the Sabbath and starts a new week. I couldn’t escape the thought that this Havdallah was somehow more special than all the rest. This Havdalah was the start the week of Rosh Hashanah. As we sang, arm-in-arm, I thought about the week ahead. I thought about the time I was going to be able to spend with my family. I thought about the meditations I would take part in during services. I thought about how I would make my new year different, better, sweeter than the one prior. I reflected on my past year–a year of sadness and fear, joy and independence. As the flame was extinguished I reveled in the sights of my community, the feel of my mother’s arms around me, the smells of the lingering summer heat, and the sense of contentment I felt.
Our traditions remind us of where we came from and where we are going but most of all, our traditions remind us to breathe in the now.