As a New Yorker, a Jew and a mother, September is a curious mix of beginnings and endings. Every year I remember and relive 9/11; every year, I celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the new year; and every year, … Read More
As a New Yorker, a Jew and a mother, September is a curious mix of beginnings and endings. Every year I remember and relive 9/11; every year, I celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the new year; and every year, my kids return to school with new teachers, new classes and sometimes, a new school. This past week was filled with an almost eerie, concomitant sense of beginnings/endings. It started when my father called to tell me that the Dow had closed on 9/11 at 9605, the same as it had eight years ago on 9/11/01. I said what a funny coincidence. Daddy said, "You think it’s funny? I think there’s more to it than that." Immediately, I understood that this "coincidence" was actually a sign from the heavens, and since I am personally always looking for signs from God, I asked daddy what he meant. Daddy, however, said he didn’t want to tell me but he was pretty sure that the end times are closer than we think. The End Times have been close my entire life. That’s what happens when you grow up evangelical on a farm in Indiana. In addition to wreaking havoc in the world, Satan and his demons were never happier than when they were causing mayhem in our home. My father would often despair that, "Satan has got one foot in the door!" at which my sister Mary would under her breath say, "Well, slam the door, then." A few days later, I was in Chicago for my cousin Ruthe’s fiftieth birthday celebration. A group of 19 women, we sat in a circle to "gently welcome Ruthe" to her 50s. Without going into too much detail, our hostess led us in a spiritual ceremony that entailed lighting candles while sharing an intention for Ruthe, presenting an "offering"–a poem, a gift, a letter–to her, and then writing down on two separate pieces of paper what we personally wanted to close the door on this year, and what we wanted to open the door to. The mental image of a door opening and closing reminded me first of Mary’s sarcastic "slam the door on Satan" comment, and then, of Rosh Hashanah, ending the old year, beginning a new one. While the doorway is a transition in place, Rosh Hashanah is a transition in time. Both transitions have long been feared and for good reason–they offer one the freedom to come and go, but they might also allow invisible, dark forces to enter.
Within the Jewish tradition, the months of Elul and Tishri (September and October) correspond to the autumn equinox, which marks the transition between autumn and winter. This was the time when evil spirits roamed the earth. The gates of heaven were open, souls were awaiting justice, and with such openings, the evil spirits could slip in, as well. How to prevent them from entering? Bells on the hem of the High Priest’s robes, and loud noises, like the blowing of a ram’s horn, would scare them away.
College is the ultimate transitional place and space. It is a time between high school and getting a job, while living in a temporary place amongst a temporary group of people. We dropped our daughter off at college in Chicago, and as I watched her walk with the rest of her classmates under the arch that marks the entrance to the campus, I thought about Ruthe and how we gathered around to usher her from one place in time to the next. I thought, again, about my father and decided that he is right. It is the end times of a sort, for the times are always ending. Which means another time is beginning. On Rosh Hashanah, we’ll close the door on 5769, and open it onto 5770. Gently, and with bells on, let’s welcome the future.