Thursday, September 21, 2006


A Yemenite-style Shofar - the traditional Ram’s Horn Trumpet.

The aroma of a beef brisket, braising under a blanket of sliced onions and chopped tomatoes, fills the house. A cauldron of chicken soup simmers on the stovetop, awaiting a final addition of golden egg noodles to make it complete. A dish of sliced apples sits next to its seasonal complement, a container of Tupelo honey.

The mornings are cool, despite daytime temperatures that still sneak into the lower 80’s. In the dawn stillness, a thin sliver of moon floats in a dark ultramarine sky.

The New Year approaches, when Old gives way to New.

Friday evening marks the beginning of the two-day Rosh Hashanah holiday, kicking off the ten Days of Awe that culminate in that most solemn of observances, Yom Kippur. It is the start of the year 5767.

For us, it’s a time of preparation. Preparing Rosh Hashanah dinner is one of the handful of Major Culinary Projects of the year, ranking up there with Thanksgiving and the Passover seder, and SWMBO is all over it. Meanwhile, I am preparing for Yom Kippur, at which time I will serve as shaliach tzibur – cantor and leader - of the Musaf service. Fear o’ Public Speaking is not an option.

It’s also a time of introspection, of taking stock.

There is a prayer in the High Holiday liturgy – the U-netaneh Tokef – that evokes the image of a heavenly tribunal, a court of judgment from which even the angels are not exempt, when the Almighty extends his figurative Shepherd’s Crook and watches the flock pass by, deciding who will be written into the Book of Life for another year.

Hyperreligious people and little children might take the U-netaneh Tokef literally, but I don’t imagine that things really work that way. Nevertheless, it’s a powerful allegory, one that is presented with dramatic language: “The great shofar is sounded, and a still, small voice is heard.”

“Who shall live and who shall perish; who by fire and who by water...”

After my mother passed away, I was never able to listen to the U-netaneh Tokef in quite the same way. I could not get through it without getting a major-league lump in the throat and a tear in the eye.

I fear this year will be the same, for all too many of my friends have received a call from the Unexpected Visitor this past year. Howard. Joe. Gravel-Voice Larry. “Who shall live and who shall perish,” indeed. For none of us knows just what is written next to our names in that ol’ Allegorical Book...and none of us is guaranteed a seat at next year’s New Year services.

But I will put those maudlin thoughts aside for now. I need to run through Hineni a few more times (it’s not good to fumfer in front of 2,000 people), and the noodle kugel is in the oven, perfuming the house with the aroma of apricots.

It’s a beautiful time of the year, as the Old is replaced by the New.

To my friends, family, and Esteemed Readers, Jewish or not, may this new year be a healthy and sweet one for you and yours, without limit to any good thing.

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