Dear Ella, The Jewish New Year was always a nice time in our home. Memories of wonderful smells filled the house, and there was a sort of bustle that surrounded the dinners on those nights. Dad would have to set up the large dining table, and my sister and I were in charge of polishing the silverware and setting the table with the good china.
When I was younger, I actually went to shul with my parents, too, but did little praying. Instead, my friends and I ran through the corridors of the synagogue and often got in trouble for making too much noise. But the awe of hearing the shofar was always the highlight. It was a very special memory that fills me with warmth.
Then my parents separated and the entire mood in the house changed. My sister and I stayed with our mom. At first, she tried not to involve us in their fighting, but eventually, the venom spewed and the hatred was evident. Our first Rosh Hashanah as a split family was nothing short of torture. They fought over us and forced us to choose. I’m thankful that I’m now away in school and can make excuses for not coming home. I actually dread the High Holidays now and feel very lonely. I wanted to share my story in case any of your other readers feel this way, too.
Alone for the holidays
Dear Alone for the holidays,
I can hear in your letter the longing for those days that have left their mark in your heart. It’s time, however, to make new memories to carry with you. Rosh Hashanah is a time for self-reflection. However, when you do it together with others as part of a community or group, you’re given guidance and a sort of “program” to follow. The warmth you’re looking for is still there, it just has to come from within.
I’m sure that if you try, you’ll find other young Jewish students that are alone at school during the holidays. Perhaps there is a Hillel at the school, or a Chabad, or another congregation nearby. You don’t have to know anyone there. You’ll meet new people. I think you’ll be surprised to see that your situation isn’t so unique and that many people, for one reason or another, are alone for the holidays.
All of us together, each of us alone. The High Holidays are a time when all of us stand alone before God as we reflect on our lives and review our past year. But whether you realize it or not, you’re part of a much larger Jewish community. Don’t go it alone. Go to a place where, once again, you can hear the shofar. It may bring back memories, but at the same time, you’ll be making a new connection, one you’ll carry with you through adulthood, a new memory that’s yours alone, not one from your past.
The memories you shared with your family will always live on in a special corner of your heart, but you have room for many more special moments. Find your own compass and follow it in other directions. Embrace the new community you’re part of. Don’t sit alone in your dorm room listening to the shofar on YouTube. Go online and find a service nearby. Who knows what’s waiting for you.