A Holy Day of Noise

It’s September, and the new year has started in all but name. Gone are the carefree days of summer and the endless afternoon sun. The noisy frenzy has begun: a new school year, a new schedule, activity sign-up, and just enough panic to get through it all.

In the midst of this seasonal transition, is it surprising that the High Holidays loom over us? They represent a welcome- and not so welcome- pause in our everyday lives. Here is our chance to reset our internal calendar and usher in the New Year with reflection and intention. לשנה טובה תכתבו May you be inscribed for a good year. We are each one of us beginning a journey into this new year, so why not pause for a moment, catch a breath or two, and take comfort in our literary tradition where each new year is celebrated as a bright clean page on which we can write our own story.

Which brings us to the beating heart of the holiday: High Holiday Services. Whether you attend a temple, a synagogue, or stay home and eat a ham sandwich like my Uncle Meishe, z”l, did every Yom Kippur, you are faced with a most pressing question: How do you celebrate this most holy of days with an unruly horde of children hanging onto you by the coattails? When you can hardly finish a sentence without interruption, demands, or being made into a human merry-go-round, how exactly are you supposed to “reset” and enter a peaceful mindset of meditative reflection? Did children in biblical times just behave better? Probably.

Synagogue babysitting is a great option, as are children’s services especially designed with High Holiday melodies, snacks, and interactive activities. But what about your own personal spiritual needs, shared with those closest to your heart? How to show your youngest the beauty and meaning of this holiday, as you experience it – aside from eating honey, apples, and challah, which have been stuck to her face since the evening before? Therein lies the challenge of this holiday. Because I can attest to the fact that the meaning of Rosh Hashanah, for my children, rests solely on the structure of family, food, and shul, in that order. And who am I kidding? Amidst the soaring melodies of Avinu Malkeinu and the goose-bump-inducing call of the shofar, I am also dreaming of the food and laughter that will surround me at the holiday table.

In reality one must ask, how much of this holiday is reflection and how much of this holiday is noise? I seek the peace of the sanctuary, and I invite my children in to experience it for themselves. Even if they cannot understand or appreciate it now, I am hopeful something of its beauty will softly steal into their hearts and live quietly for a time. On this day of all days, I wish for us to share in this together.

Twice is Rosh Hashanah mentioned in the Torah, and both carry noisy overtones. Biblically, it is called Yom Teruah, a day when the shofar is sounded (Numbers 29:1) and a “sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts,” according to the JPS translation (Leviticus 23:24). It is literally a day of rest grounded in noise. Ironic, no? My advice, embrace the one within the other. And celebrate Rosh Hashanah as you will, by grounding yourself in family and friends, remembering who you are, and thanking G-d for the chance to live another year.

לשנה טובה תכתבו May you be inscribed for a good year. לשנה טובה ומתוקה May you have a sweet New Year. And may you find your best self, and tell many more stories, in this coming New Year.

Meira Silverstein is a professional musician with a deep love of Jewish learning.