As we transition from Rosh Hashanah, with its apples and honey and overwhelmingly sweet top notes, with its darker undercurrents visible but not looming, to Yom Kippur, with its stark warnings, profound demands, and then triumphant, exciting ending, as the increasingly spirited, even joyous singing in its last few hours ends in one last, as long-as-humanly-possible shofar blast, the world is making that transition around us.
The hot, humid, uncomfortable summer is turning into pleasant, breezy, comfortable autumn, with occasional days of near monsoon reminding us that baked earth eventually turns into mud. (I don’t know what we’re supposed to do with that understanding, but there it is.) The world is in transition right now.
No matter how frequently you go to shul during the year, there is something about hearing the music that we get to hear only in this season, and that we hear every year, that is comforting and frightening at the same time. Comforting because of the memories, frightening because anything that reminds us as clearly of the passage of time is inherently scary.
I assume that my shul is like many others in that it was more crowded this year. Covid’s back, so there were masks, but their use was entirely voluntary. The singing was full-throated. The seats were close together again. It looked and felt normal (although of course we won’t know if it really was normal until we find out how many of us come down with covid in the next few days).
It was wonderful seeing people I hadn’t seen for the last few years, and I know I’m not alone in feeling that.
On Sunday, in the late afternoon (which is happening earlier and earlier; the autumnal equinox is on Shabbat, as the fall begins), my dogs and I walked down the bike path that runs along the east bank of the Hudson (I’m not in New Jersey, but I have a stunning view of it. That counts, right?) for tashlich.
It’s not that everyone, every single Jew on the Upper West Side, was there for tashlich, but certainly every group was represented. It is a display of the range of fashion and observance and ethnicity and age and taste and dogs of the Jewish community.
We stood there and talked — so very many of us, and a surprising number of us with canine companions — until it got dark, and we kept talking, the dogs lying in resignation at our feet, until it was time for Havdalah.
It’s sort of like sleepaway camp for grownups, when you say Havdalah out by the river, with the bridge shining in the distance and an occasional brightly lit boat moving silently by. The beauty is palpable. You can feel it in the air, although you can’t grasp it to keep it from slipping away.
This is a very hard time right now. We know that some synagogues were swatted — victimized by bomb scares, made to go outside, as the bullies who called in the threats watched the livestream as the sanctuaries were evacuated. Antisemitism is in the air again, as it has not been in the living memory of all but the oldest of us. We know that we’re lucky that the bomb threats were lies, done by idiots who were thrilled by their apparent power. But we can’t count on the threats never being real.
But someone, out there by the river, under the sky, looking at the marvels of the natural world and of the human-created one, listening to the voices of all those people singing together, it is natural and healthy and good to feel joy. To feel hope.
Gmar chatima tovah.