Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Mezinka Dance, Round #1

I’ve been busy making the bar mitzvah that came and went last Shabbos. The preceding weeks were a maelstrom of preparation and I was nervous I wouldn’t get to everything in time. But of course, it all came together at the last moment, and the simcha raced towards its finish line in what felt like a matter of seconds before disappearing into the vapor of happy memory.

The usual presumptions of disaster haunted me as the day approached, and a few things – all minor in retrospect – did go wrong. For starters, my gas stovetop blew up as I brewed the chicken soup. The musician for the melave malka cancelled on Thursday night, and it turned out that the tablecloths I’d selected were the wrong shape and size.

I’m a girl who pays close attention to detail, even when it comes to the quotidian. Still, I had no intention of losing sight of the forest for the elaborate centerpieces I’d crafted. I had myself a good cry and allowed each of these distractions to resolve themselves.

This bar mitzvah was a biggie. It was our youngest son’s, the last of three. How had we’d gotten here so quickly? I envisioned sitting with a wreath on my head for the traditional mezinka tanz (dance) at his wedding. I rarely drink, but I needed a little claret to take the emotional edge off.

Here was my baby, about to become a man. I wanted the day to be meaningful. I wanted it to be about all the wonderful things he is and about the long, often turbulent journey of this particular, out-of-the-box 13-year-old, who has never had the luxury of taking anything for granted.

On the Shabbos of the bar mitzvah, there was no blizzard. The temperature was just above freezing, reasonable for the long walk to shul. None of my other supersized worries came to fruition either. My son had nursed a sore throat all week, but did not develop laryngitis. Despite his fear of public speaking, he did not refuse to get up there and do his thing, though he asked if he absolutely had to go through with it when I woke him up that morning.

He read his Torah portion slowly and clearly (flawlessly, if I may be so bold), and he himself could not believe what he’d done. He looked, as the tailor fitting him for his suit predicted, “sharp up there on the beamer” (my son may never call it the bimah again). I sobbed. I’m sorry. I just could not help myself.

During a break in the action, I asked a friend to handle the distribution of the candy bags we’d hurl at the bar mitzvah boy when he completed the haftarah. I nervously asked her again during the next pause, then once more. She humored me, though my nudging was never about the candy. It was about holding my breath and praying that the details would anchor an ethereal moment in the tangible world so that I’d know for sure it was true.

By then, my stove top had been replaced and the caterer had figured out how to make a small rectangular tablecloth fit a large circular table. Our musician had designated his replacement. Honestly, none of it made much difference.

What did matter, however, was my son and the Torah portion he’d spent an entire year mastering. And the moment when he stood next to his brothers, one after the next, as they each had an aliyah. It was also about the love packed into our crowded shul, and the way our family simcha became a communal event that expressed our gratitude not only to G-d, but to everyone on earth who’d helped us reach that day.

I recited the Shehechiyanu and meant every word. That night, I watched from the sidelines as the men danced with my son. I loved the way he beamed in time to the music and how much he enjoyed each second of the action. I, meanwhile, did one of heck of a mezinka dance in my head.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Please Don’t Change

For many years, our yard has served as a rest area for a family of deer. Every morning they dine here on the grass and leaves, do their business, and nap before moving along to a different spot in the neighborhood. They gaze at me quizzically when I try to scare them off. I swear, they think their names are on the deed to the property.

They were only three when they arrived here one spring, but have since grown to seven, a formidable number of wild animals to have in one’s yard when one doesn’t live in the outback. They ravage my garden and have made me Lyme-phobic. Still, they are – invited or not -- a constant in our suburban lives.

On a recent morning, I stared out the window while the coffee brewed and sensed instantly that something was missing. It took a while to figure out that it was the deer. I scanned the yard. They were not beneath the swing set, their usual hangout, nor were they near the shed, where they like to nosh on the brittle weeds.

It’s not that I missed them, but their absence from our landscape didn’t feel right. The Jewish mother in me even felt a twinge of jealously: Is it possible they’d found better snacks elsewhere? For a moment, I worried they’d met the tragic end I secretly wished for them when they first snatched possession of the yard from my boys.

I was relieved to notice them sprawled out about 15 feet from the house, resting on the soft layer of snow that had fallen in the night. Still, silent, like figures in a diorama. Their fur, Papa Deer’s antlers, and all seven pairs of pert white ears faded from view, camouflaged behind bare branches of shrubbery until their bulging eyes gave them away.

I heard a familiar bark. Gadget, our friends’ enthusiastic dog, was out for his pre-dawn stroll. Lucky guy, his animal instincts pointed him directly to where the deer were. He was ready to go -- to play, to run, to dislocate them from their perch -- but they weren’t giving him the time of day. Excited by the sudden appearance of something else and the breakfast awaiting him at home, Gadget moved on.

But I couldn’t get past the moment I thought the deer had disappeared. They’ve driven me nuts for nearly a decade. I curse them under my breath every time I pick up their droppings and assess their damage to my garden. Then I don’t see them one morning and decide something is amiss in the universe?

It took a while to own up to it, though I knew all along why it bothered me. I often struggle when faced with changes that affect the backdrop to my day-to-day. I want the comfort of what I love or at the very least, what I know, even if that means deer in my yard.

I’m not asking to stop time, or to go back in it, though I admit I sometimes wish I had the power to do so. For starters, I’d relive the days when Petak’s had a sweet potato knish on its menu. And I do believe that change can also be good. I’ll take world peace. I’ll take a raise. I’ll take a smaller dress size. Bring on more happy milestone moments, like weddings and births.

Otherwise, I’d prefer if things stayed put so that I don’t spend time questioning why they didn’t. I’d like my boys to stay little, though they already aren’t. I don’t want to get older or greyer, but when I do, I want my husband to continue looking at me the loving way he does, even when I’ve grown all wrinkly like a dried up apple at the bottom of the fruit bowl.

I’m just saying that it would be nice if there were more constants, more immovable bits on our personal horizons to spare us from disappointment and the need to readjust our range of vision.

I was relieved to discover that someone was listening to me. The deer were back in their usual spot the next morning. If they move again, I’ll fetch Inspector Gadget to find them for me.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

On Reading Books and Reading Boys

I’ve been hiding behind the pages of a book since I first learned to read. Even now, when I’m well-ensconced in middle age, I turn to books for escape and comfort, peace and quiet, and a way to avoid things I don’t want to do. Some days, books even provide the oxygen I need to breathe, and they only expect me to care for their spines in return.

Books also give me a choice: to be myself, or if I’d rather, to be someone else. I get as close as possible to acting in a way I never would, to engaging in conversations I’ll never have, and to nibbling on forbidden fruit without the consequences. For the duration of their pages, it’s as if I exist in an alternate universe, where I live a life not my own. But books can only bring us near an actual experience. They cannot escort us across the border.

I think on some level, I always knew it was an opiate I sought on the shelves of the public library, but I had no name for it until I learned the word vicarious in middle school. The teacher wrote it in chalk on the blackboard and lights went off in my head. Vicarious made sudden sense of my world.

If only my sons were books I could read. A series in three volumes, all annotated.

So much of their thinking and doing is a mystery to me, though I do understand a lot of it after all these years of mothering them. We are programmed in unique code, and according to Jewish law, obligated in different ways. Sometimes, we speak our own dialects. In the thick of those discussions and disagreements, I wish I could step into their sneakers and be who they are, just long enough to figure out how to get things right with them more often.

Nothing else could bridge the divide in full, a reality I grasped during my older boys’ bar mitzvahs. A hollow knob, the tiniest bit of emptiness, began floating around inside me as my sons read from the open Torah. It did not diminish my joy or my pride in them, but it reminded me that no matter how closely I stood to the mechitzah, I was only watching from the bleachers.

Now that my youngest is about to put on tefillin for the first time, I sense the knob moving around again. I needlepointed the bag in which this almost-man will store them. I’ll watch with amazement and gratitude when he wraps himself in the straps. And yet, I’ll be an onlooker living the moment vicariously, a tourist who can get only so close to the cordon around the exhibit. This part of him and of his brothers will remain elusive.

I could ask the boys what it’s like for them to place the bayit (box) on their heads and be bound by the yoke of heaven. I can inquire how it feels to connect with G-d in such a physical way each morning. But I’ll only get what I usually get when I ask my teenagers these sort of probing questions, if I get a response at all: “Oh, I don’t know, Ma.”

I plan to try anyway, because a vicarious moment, when it is actually happening to someone for whom we’d step in front of a moving train, can be fulfilling enough. I’m their mother after all. I’m bound to intuit correctly some of the time. And if I get stuck, I’ll imagine that I’m holding a wise and beautiful story, and at least my heart will understand what I’m reading.

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Very Loud Quiet

I’ve noticed lately that a lot of my parenting time is spent, as it has been over the years, thinking about what drives me crazy, and I’ve been working out whether that’s an entirely bad thing.

When my boys were small, their simplest actions made me smile. The way they offered to share a chewed-on teething biscuit or how they’d run to me when I arrived to get them from nursery school. I never minded the poop or the spit-up or the waking up at all hours. Or even the smell of Balmex. They were part of the package of unconditional love.

And yet, as they got older, I developed expectations, and therein lies the source of my troubles.

It was clear early on that my sons were not the fastidious types when it came to household chores, no matter how often I sang the Barney “Clean Up” song. Even in adolescence, they leave a mess in their wake, despite my repeated exhortations to pick up after themselves.

I fear what their future roommates will think of them and what my future daughters-in-law will think of me. I’m forced to cling to the thread of optimism offered by more experienced parents, who assure me that the boys will mature out of this era of sloth and that they are really not unique among their peers.

For now, their towels pile up on the bathroom floor. Their clean laundry gets mixed in with the dirty because that’s easier than putting it away. And my favorite infraction: If a teaspoon of milk remains in the bottle, you have technically not finished it, which means the next guy has to remember (but doesn’t) to tell Mom, who does the food shopping but does not have telepathy.

This litany of complaints ran through my mind last week as I cleaned the house for Shabbos. My eldest was in the shower, blaring the Bluetooth waterproof speaker we got the boys last Chanukah. He had been using some other gadget to play music from his iPhone, positioned precariously on the back of the toilet. We knew it was only a matter of time before that ended badly.

His playlist is an eclectic mix of current music, and he listens to it at a volume that essentially pipes it throughout the house. I get it. I remain a music-loving teenager at heart.

On that particular afternoon, though, the music was slightly louder than usual when my husband came home from work. In a rare moment of forgetfulness about the pop bands of his own youth, he called out to the teenager, asking him to lower that “terrible” song, which wasn’t terrible, just, well, youthful.

Generally, I’m the one who forgets they’re still kids. My husband is the cooler parent who would serve them ice cream for dinner every night. Yet I suddenly turned into the laid-back mama and he turned into a serious father sitcom version of himself.

“Let him be,” I said. “Next year when he’s away in yeshiva in Israel, we will miss every sound he makes.” We shrugged, laughed, and let the music play on.

I had a vision of our empty nest. There’s time yet, years even, until that’s a full reality, but the idea of it made me sweat.

As a result, I’m trying to turn a blind eye to the mess and to our home’s imperfections. It does look fine most of the time. Not ready for a photo shoot, but fine. The boys will tell you that I’m the only one who would notice dirty socks on a bookshelf anyway. This doesn’t mean I’ve stopped cleaning -- I’ve got to stay ahead of the curve – but we’re arguing about dirt a lot less.

These days, when I get in the car, I turn on a station that plays the music I hear night after night from the shower instead of my usual playlist. Because I have through osmosis memorized some of the lyrics, I sing along as I drive to the bus stop to pick up the boys. They are mortified when they pile in and notice that I’m listening to the songs of their generation, more so that I know the words.

They click off the radio.

I turn it back on.

There’s only so much quiet a mother can take.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Wisdom in Falling Leaves

As a little girl, fall was always my favorite season. I loved that the trees looked like enormous red and yellow lollipops and that the air tasted of cinnamon. When the leaves turned brittle and fell to the ground, I walked back and forth over mounds of them, just to hear their comforting rustle beneath my feet.

I still like fall best, though what I now treasure most about it is its unwillingness to waste time. Fall knows exactly what it must do and gets on with it. It’s a period of transition. It’s about endings. But it is mostly about those leaves and our fragility. I can’t help but wonder whether the trees process the loss as they strip their color, whether they mourn what once was, whether they ache with the melancholy wrought by the shorter days.

For six years of falls, in the weeks before frost blanketed the grass, I walked with my youngest son to school. Each morning, we stopped in a nearby field to pick through the patches of lingering summer clover. We looked every day until we found a rare four-leaf specimen, the sign of a lucky year ahead. Later, we pressed our find into an album, labeling the date, and discussed how, when it comes to grades, you have to work hard for your luck.

The ritual helped him adjust to the new school year, but I knew that the autumn would come when he’d be too old or too embarrassed to sit on the grass with his mother. I clung like a barnacle to his willingness for as long as it remained within reach.

When he moved on to middle school last year, I started driving him in the mornings and we had to search for our clover on a Sunday instead. By this fall, however, he was already focused on other activities. He’d outgrown clover-picking altogether, quietly moving on to adolescence during this season of transitions. Our ritual ended without a sound, just as the leaves began to drop silently from the trees.

Still, we talk all the time, and for that I consider myself blessed. Lately, we’ve spoken about how there are things that may never make sense in our curious world, how there is love and hidden wisdom behind G-d’s plan, and how none of these facts excuse a seventh grader from doing his homework.

It takes nothing more than reading the news each day to fully grasp how little we understand of the Big Picture. On the morning of the Har Nof massacre, I shared the painful story with my son when he stumbled down to breakfast. His reaction was blunt and full of sadness. “How the heck do you expect me to go to school and pretend that everything is normal when it clearly isn’t?”

“Because that’s what we have to do,” I told him.

I never try to hide my tears from my boys, though I do have to fight the inclination to curl up into a ball. I want more than anything to help them see the good in a world whose light seems to dim with the passing days. After all, life goes on, even as we mourn, even as we try to comfort those facing irrevocable losses, even as we pray for G-d’s justice.

There is a profound intelligence to the unfolding of the seasons. Spring emerges hopefully from the chill of winter, hesitating from bud to blossom. It melds with summer before drying up on its way into fall, where we are reminded of the fact that all life is fragile. But this autumn, more than ever, we need not look at the falling leaves to know.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Fear of Flying

For 13 years, I flew like a bird. I did so with such frequency that I earned platinum status with my favorite airline, and I delighted in the perks, like an annual courtesy upgrade to business class and preferential boarding. I enjoyed venturing from place to place and seeing the world. I especially loved wearing those free socks during the flight.

I’m vertically challenged, but I never felt cramped, even in steerage class. I only minded the occasional neighbor who smelled of vodka. Sure, I spent hours delayed in airports, mostly because of the weather. But really, who minds waiting while they de-ice the wings of your plane?

It was my particular career in the nonprofit sector that obliged me to globetrot and I both needed and wanted to work. My travels took me across Central and Eastern Europe mostly, beginning in the early post-Communist era. Locals would tell me without irony that my ubiquitous smile singled me out as a foreigner, but I couldn’t help myself.

Each place I visited offered a smorgasbord of adventure. I listened to conversations in languages I didn’t understand as if at a concert. I decoded native culture by observing the footwear, the supermarket shelves, and the demeanor of hotel desk clerks. I rose well before my earliest meetings to explore each city, and never felt bolder, freer, or more at peace than I did on those trips.

I also found meaning in what I did, which in great part involved visiting elderly Holocaust survivors in their homes. I gathered heart-wrenching stories too plentiful to count and amassed a stash of crocheted doilies, because the folks we visited often refused to let a guest who’d traveled so far leave empty-handed. They pulled their handmade creations out of bureaus, even off the arms of their sofas, pressing them into my hands.

I met them in their community kosher canteens as well, and in their wonderful company, I first sampled hot fleishig borscht and varenikhes. The latter were a bite of Gan Eden, dough filled with meat and flavors of the past. Once, when I waxed poetic to one of the cooks, she packed me a jarful for the road. Still today, if I close my eyes, I can taste them, though I never succeeded in replicating their magic at home.

But nothing lasts forever. Outside forces gradually eroded my love affair with work travel. The first chip in the veneer occurred during a winter road trip across the bumpy Romanian countryside in an ancient, unheated Lada, a journey that had never before bothered me. This time, though, I was pregnant with my eldest and quite morning sick. I turned monstrous shades of green.

With the arrival of our boys, being able to come and go required increasingly complicated choreography. Friends and neighbors pitched in, and I reciprocated in kind. Grandparents helped out, too, filling in the hours when the daycare was closed and my husband was at work. Still, it took an enormous leap of faith to step onto a plane, knowing how easily the entire childcare support system could collapse.

I endured a percussive throbbing of guilt in my brain during long flights, while the search for child-friendly souvenirs consumed any rare free time abroad. Work travel, once beloved, began to represent an unbreachable distance from my boys. I was too torn to carry on, so I drew my working mother line in the sand. I negotiated for an on-land writing-centric position and began the slow and steady end to my career as I knew it.

For a long while after, I had brief flickers of nostalgia that caught me off guard. I’d made myself fully available to my family on these shores, but I feared for the wellbeing of my open-minded global outlook and for my sense of wonder and curiosity, which, if left unfed for too long, might all wither.

Then came September 11. I was pregnant with my youngest, unable to get back to the suburbs that evening from the city. I wasn’t in Albania, yet I was still light years away when I needed most to be home. The world I longed to explore each corner of had become meaner and scarier. There was also my new fear of flying. For a brief period of time, I wished I didn’t have to leave the house.

Just as the US stood ready to invade Iraq in 2003, I had the opportunity to join a weeklong professional development program in Argentina. Here was my chance to visit a country I wanted to see, to step again into the wider working world, all while putting my wings back into the sky. But I imagined wartime airport closings keeping me in Buenos Aires for months. I decided not to go. Was this rational? Of course not. Then again, so much of mothering defies reason.

Time passed. I eventually agreed to family vacations that necessitated air travel, including one that used the last of my globetrotting frequent flyer miles. That gave me a wonderful sense of closure, while conquering – for the most part, anyway – my fear of flying.

At some point, I asked my eldest, the only one I suspected might remember, if it was rough for him those years when I traveled for work. He looked at me puzzled, and asked, “You did?”

This past week, I went to Virginia to address an amazing group of Jewish women, all activists in their buzzing community. It was to be a one-day jaunt, and my husband convinced me to go. Everyone – friends, family, even my children – all said not to worry, the boys are older now. I did not board the plane easily, but I enjoyed every moment of the event, especially the warm reception, the post-speech hugs, the sisterhood, and an early morning coffee with old friends.

And then, kapow.

I turned on my phone to find a curious text from a friend. Every fear I’d suppressed in agreeing to travel far from home washed over me again. I called my husband, who delayed telling me that our youngest had fallen between two sets of bleachers at school, possibly breaking his knee. “You weren’t supposed to know yet.” Our wise child had begged the nurse not to call his mother. My husband, who was already on his way to work, turned around and picked him up instead.

I sat in the airport, awaiting my return flight, delayed by foul weather, the lack of a plane, the lack of a pilot, and finally, the absence of a crew. It gave me plenty of time to beat myself up for not being home. I tried to find souvenirs for the boys, though there was nothing really. In the end, while ordering my second latte, I purchased a Charlotte, NC “Here You Are” mug at Starbucks. For some reason, I told the barista it was a guilt gift.

I didn’t present it with enthusiasm, but the boys questioned why I needed to buy them anything at all if I was gone only one day. They aren’t little anymore, they reminded me. I tried to explain how hard it was to have failed them by putting my career and myself first for 25 hours, by not being the one to pick my wounded son up from the nurse that morning.

In his inimitable way, my eldest told me get over it, and I knew he was right because it didn’t feel like a slap at all. It was said with the kindness and understanding of a boy on the cusp of adulthood, a son giving me license to be myself. A son who next asked if I thought my presentation had gone well.

I made myself a large coffee in that Starbucks cup the next morning. Because Here You Are isn’t a mug series or a city. It’s peace of mind.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

In Awe of the Moment

Twice, I didn’t make it to shul on Rosh Hashana.

The first time, I’d herniated a disc while putting the holiday turkey in the oven. My husband ended up handling the chore himself, taking full credit – with a wink -- for preparing such a tasty and tender bird. A friend stopped by to blow shofar. I nibbled on challah and some dark meat. Otherwise, the holiday passed uneventfully, lower back pain eclipsing my disappointment.

During my second stay-at-home Rosh Hashana, I was pregnant with my eldest and confined to bed rest. For months, I lied flat, too uncomfortable even to read, watching the same loop of shows on the fledgling Food Network, followed by Oprah and the 5 o’clock news. It was all mind-numbing, but I kept my eye on the prize of the baby pickling inside me.

When the holidays approached, however, I naively assumed I’d be able to waddle over to shul. It was the start of the year in which I would become a mother and I couldn’t imagine missing the ritual fanfare. But no begging or cajoling could sway my obstetrician. He permitted me to light candles, and then it was back to the couch.

I spent the days worrying, as I’d done each day of my bed rest, and – for everything, but mostly for the wellbeing of my unborn son -- I beseeched
G-d. But they’re called the Days of Awe with good reason. The moving score, the scenery, the powerful soliloquies, and the costumes – oh, that sea of white kittels on Yom Kippur! – create a powerful sense of drama, helping us get into the spirit. Though I had plenty to fear, I just wasn’t feeling the awe in my living room. I missed the familiar melodies, the hypnotic sway, the rabbi’s message, and most of all, the echo of the shofar blasts in the sanctuary.

So it was an interesting thing this year when, just days before Rosh Hashana, I found myself struggling to get into the High Holiday groove and considered, for the first time, opting out of shul. I’d hit a funk, mostly over everyday challenges that had accrued into a daunting bowlful. I convinced myself that I’d be too distracted during the long service and that it would be wrong to sit there, my mind racing with off-topic thoughts.

As a mom, I still had role-modeling obligations, so I proceeded with my routine, hoping to get in the mood. I rose early to wake my husband for morning selichot. I made sure the boys had clean pants, pressed shirts, and new shoes. I made a brisket and I wrote out two lists: one of blessings for which I’m thankful and a second, which was more of an “All I Want for the New Year” sort of thing. I figured that if I went to shul and if my mind wandered, those lists would keep me anchored.

Meanwhile, G-d, who notices everything, had a plan up His sleeve, a gentle push to get my mind on track. When I lit candles to usher in Rosh Hashana, I reacted the way I did around fire only once before: at a Shabbaton when I was about twelve, mesmerized to distraction by the largest havdalah candle I’d ever seen. This time, I became so entranced by the flames that the hard bits – the ones insisting I couldn’t possibly do the Days of Awe well right now – melted. I couldn’t get to shul fast enough the next morning.

It was there that memories of those two less than spiritual Rosh Hashanas came flooding back to me, like a wagging finger. Perhaps, I thought, it’s because I’d dithered away so much time over the preceding few days when I should’ve been more focused on repentance. Or because an emotional year lay ahead -- a son’s graduation, another’s bar mitzvah – and I should’ve been more cognizant of my blessings. In the end, the reasons didn’t make a difference. What mattered was that I was there.

When the shofar-blowing began, I could not believe I’d actually considered skipping shul. I felt the adrenaline rush in my chest. The opening blessings, like the gun shot at the start of a race, gave me a quick, stark reminder of how lucky I am to have made it around another lap.

As I often do during the shofar blasts, I closed my eyes and cried, a primitive response to their raw, emotional power. I believe that each of us hears what we need to hear in those sounds. To me, they were a call to be present: in that moment and in all the moments to follow. Mostly, though, they were shouting at me to listen to what G-d was trying to tell me all year.

Which, I believe, is this: I don’t have to be reflective all the time, though reflection has its hour, especially during the Days of Awe. But to be successful at this being human thing is to show up in body and spirit, and to savor life in whatever quirky package it arrives.

Sometimes, it means to swallow hard and mine the depths of my tolerance. At others, I know it means to laugh, like when holiday guests – for whom I’ve prepared multiple dishes to accommodate their various dietary requirements -- eat everything else instead, leaving behind an untouched pan of flavorless chicken and unseasoned potatoes. But everything happens for a reason, even if that reason is to ensure that there are no margarine and brown sugar-fueled apple kugels leftover for me to nosh on once they’ve gone home.

Laugh I did ten days later, too, when I arrived in shul on Yom Kippur drenched from head to toe. Though I’d donned a raincoat and boots for the 1.5 mile walk, my outerwear was no match for the downpour.

In the ladies’ room, I joined other women shaking off their wet coats and restoring order to their outfits before heading in to pray. They gasped politely when I asked if they thought I could, in my obviously saturated state, enter the sanctuary. They agreed I could not, consoling me in the face of the obvious, assuring me that I’d soon dry. Still, I savored the camaraderie – we all joked about the storm’s impact on our appearances -- even as I worried about contracting pneumonia.

I was about to give up and head home when another woman arrived. She took one look at me and offered me her pashmina, which she’d brought along because the shul temperature is arctic on Yom Kippur. When I demurred, she insisted. I asked, “What if you need it?” She replied, “We’re both here in the shul. I’ll find you.” Indeed, we were, and although my clothing didn’t dry at all, the shawl and the kindness that came with it kept me anchored where I needed to be.

Here we are, the first days of Sukkot already behind us, the last days fast approaching. But even as we head back into our kitchens for this round, even as we kvetch – with a wink -- about shopping and preparing, even as we wonder where on earth we’ll put another bite of honey cake if we’re to wear our dresses again, I’ll rejoice to have been in the moment for every bit of this long stretch of holidays.

For as long as I can, I’ll cling to the warmth of that pashmina and the flicker of the Rosh Hashana candles. I’ll find ways to keep the echo of the shofar in my ears. After all, there’s a long winter ahead.