Sunday, September 09, 2007

Holiday preparation, Ima-style

Once again, the holidays seem to have sneaked up on me. Since my babies were born ten months ago (10 months!) time seems to be moving so fast that I think my mind is still stuck somewhere back in June, and here it is already September and Elul.

I really can’t complain about holiday preparations because I have none of the food variety to do – we spend the holidays with family friends in a beautiful part of upstate NY, where my husband is the part-time rabbi of a small, very sweet shul (which, thankfully, does not treat me as a rebbetzin). So we’re hosted – warmly and wonderfully – instead of having to be the hosts. While many of my friends are busily crafting menus, buying briskets, and strategically loading the refridgerator, I just need to think about what to pack for me and the babies for the days we’ll be away.

But I’m finding the holiday preparations particularly challenging this year because they are my first as a mother, and I’m realizing how much this will change my usual experience. For example, when asked if I wanted to do any part of the services, I blithely offered to pick up whatever leyning no one else wanted to do. Which is not a problem for me in terms of preparation, but I’m wondering how exactly it will work for me to step away from the babies at various moments to be on the bima. Even though I’ve been to shul several times since the babies were born (which in itself is no small feat given their morning nap time and the effort required to get two babies out of the house), I haven’t actually taken my tallit out of its bag since their naming – just to give you a sense of how active a davenner I’ve managed to be with two small babies.

I’m particularly aware of this limitation on my opportunity for prayer time because Rosh Hashanah was especially significant to me for in the past couple of years. Two years ago, I began the new year in a low place. I had been trying to get pregnant for a year, without success. I was about to begin fertility treatment, so I was hopeful about what the new year might bring, but had suffered enough monthly disappointments to be very hesitant in my optimism. That year, I requested the opportunity to leyn the haftarah on the first day of Rosh Hashana, which tells the story of Hannah and her fervent (and successful) prayer to bear a son. Chanting that haftarah was my way of praying fervently, and I immersed myself in it so deeply that when I reached the final verses, my voice wavered with tears and I was surprised to look up and see the congregation seated before me.

Last year, I was enormously pregnant with the twins – so huge that I needed assistance to get down the hill to the tent where services were held. But despite my discomfort, I felt elated and absolutely in tune with the spirit of the season, bursting with life and possibility. The liturgical phrase “hayom harat olam” – “today is pregnant with eternity” – resonated deeply with my own experience of that moment of great potentiality, so much new about to happen but yet to be known. I felt blessed to be able to share in this Divine act of creation, and awestruck by the solemnity, responsibility, and power of the experience of carrying and bearing new life. I was grateful for the framework that the holidays offer for pausing to reflect on what the new year would bring and how I wanted to greet its gifts and challenges.

As a parent, I need that time for reflection more than ever, but I’m aware that this year, the holidays won’t offer much time that’s really for me. The arrival of Yom Tov will not put on hold the daily constant needs of my babies, and like every other day, their needs will shape my time. So for now, I need to relinquish my usual expectations of Rosh Hashanah and find a way to make it meaningful and rich in my new role as a mother.


Maya said...

Finding meaningful ways to observe the chag with the limitations of a new mother will be my challenge, too. In a way, it's what we've been doing all along, since the birth of our children--finding meaningful ways of prayer and observance as mothers--It just gets concentrated during the chagim, I suppose. Good luck! Good luck! (twice for the twins).

Joyous Jewess said...

Thank you! And you're totally right -- this is an ongoing process. I also meant to say in my post that while I've never attended shul less in these ten months, I've never prayed more. Prayer is just different now. Less communal, a little more desperate... Chag sameach and shana tova!