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September in New England is a paradox.
When we flip the calendar from August to September, the subtle weather change is palpable. In theory, it’s still summer. In practice, however, not so much. The summer vibe abruptly ends. Yes, I know, there are those who manage to stretch out summer through Labor Day, but that’s it.
For Jews, especially, the onset of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the other fall festivals mark a definite turning toward fall. This year, the holidays are “early,” as we say. Rosh Hashanah begins on Monday night of Labor Day, thus marking the incontrovertible end of summer for Jews. Too soon, I say, but there’s no arguing with that lunar calendar and the onset of the Hebrew month of Tishrei.
Does September make you blue? Melancholic?
It has that effect on me, but it evokes other feelings as well. It’s a time of new beginnings and of hope. It’s the start of the school year, even when that’s no longer directly relevant to your own life. And in New England, of course, it means two months of beautiful fall foliage.
But I’m forgetting the elephant in the room—COVID. That big, bad monster that’s still upending the normal flow of life. Yup, it’s still here upsetting plans, sowing uncertainty and creating havoc. So, how does this ongoing pandemic impact Jewish customs? Let me count the ways! There are so many decisions to make: Can I go to shul for High Holiday services? Are the precautions stringent enough? Or will I fall back on Zoom like last year? How many people can sit around my holiday table?
And, most importantly, how much brisket do I buy in light of the dramatically reduced number of guests?
There’s no question our holiday celebrations have improved from last year due to the vaccines, but we are not yet back to normal. So we must try to feel grateful for those blessings that endure. While I love the special feeling of gathering 25 people around a holiday table, the intimacy of immediate family is a gift as well, in particular for some family members who actually prefer it. COVID remains a threat, an inconvenience and source of stress, but we continue to work around it creatively by showing flexibility and good humor.
September is thus wistful, but promising. It encourages contemplation and inner work. It’s a page-turner in the book of our lives. It’s a new chapter.
Scary, exciting, fresh.
September beckons us toward reinvention and change. The shofar blast signals us to reawaken and pay attention.
Let’s grab hold and take the leap!