If you’re Jewish or have close Jewish friends, you know that the High Holidays are upon us. You might also know, the common refrain is that the holidays are early (or late) this year. Since Jewish holidays are based on a different calendar, the timing of the High Holidays moves aimlessly around the calendar everyone else uses. As I chronicle my first year of retirement, it’s time to journal about how I spent my High Holidays this year.
What are the High Holidays?
The Jewish High Holidays start with the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah), which this year fell on Sept. 15. Like all Jewish holidays, this one started at sundown (and goes until sundown) rather than from morning to night. For Jews, you hear them complain that the holidays are early this year. Well, given that they commonly come around the end of September, that’s true, but it’s all a matter of opinion.
You see, the Jewish calendar contains 12 months of nearly equal lengths, so no remembering if they have 28, 30, or 31 days. The phases of the moon determine the months and, instead of having a leap day, the Jewish calendar adds an entire month seven out of nineteen years. This keeps the calendar aligned with important things for an agrarian society, like planting and harvesting so you perform the same activities in the same months every year.
The Jewish New Year is the start of the Jewish calendar. And, this year is 5784, representing the time elapsed since G_d (Jews never use the name unless in prayer) created Adam and Eve. If you’re like most people, you can reconcile the actual geological age from science with that represented in biblical accounts but I won’t go into that quagmire here.
We call them the High Holidays because many of the most sacred days in the calendar fall within a short time period. Jewish New Year is a celebration of the beginning and it also reflects on the almost sacrifice of Isaac, which even Jews have a hard time dealing with. Ten days later, we have Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. It’s a major fast day that begins at sundown on Sept. 24 and concludes after sundown on Sept. 25. The Jewish belief is that on Jewish New Year G_d determines the fate of every human between now and the next year by writing them in the Book of Life (would make a good Disney movie, don’t you think but 20th Century Fox beat them to it). On Yom Kippur, s/he closes the book and whatever is written there will come to pass. That’s why all the fasting and prayer.
A rabbi once told a great story about the high holidays. A person traveled to Israel after the high holidays. He experienced the yearly cycle that included lots of festivals with sumptuous food, dancing, schnapps, and fun. He thinks this is a great religion, so he joins up. Unfortunately, the next holiday in the cycle is Yom Kippur with its fasting, prayer, and reflection. So, he begins to think they tricked him and that he made a poor decision.
After the majors come the minors
Well, maybe not the minors but less fraught with tension from life and death consequences. Sukkot is one of three pilgrimage holidays in the Jewish calendar. It was the time of harvest when Jews made open-air tents in the fields so they could harvest their crops. Jews still commemorate this time by building structures and eating a meal there (piggybacking on my earlier story there’s lots of drinking, eating, and general frivolity). Some might even sleep in them, especially in Israel when the weather is still good. Neighbors visit each other’s structures (called a Sukkah) to share the fun.
The last few days of Sukkot commemorate the giving of the Torah. More drinking, food, dancing with the Torah, and fun.
What I’m doing
So, I spent the week cleaning and cooking to have guests on Saturday night (between the 2 days of the Jewish New Year). We had the family over and ate so much we thought we might explode. Then, the grands spent the night and I took them for brunch the next morning. That was an adventure with three little ones (11, 9, and 6) at a buffet. Eventually, everyone was convinced to eat something nutritious among all the tempting desserts that represented most of their caloric consumption from that meal.
After eating a huge meal of matza ball soup, corned beef, potato kugel, and apple pie, the brunch just tuckered everyone out so lounging was on the agenda.
Meanwhile, I’m still trying to get everything settled for retirement. I’m still trying to figure out what I’ll get from my retirement account as none of the deposits so far add up to what we discussed. I won’t get my first Social Security check until late next month. Meanwhile, new costs go into effect in January, as all the insurance companies offering Medicare options change their costs and compensation levels. I haven’t even gotten this under my belt and now I’ll have an entirely new set of rules to figure out. Oh, well! The fight goes on.
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