Thursday, March 30, 2023

This piece comes to you from my kitchen table on October 4, decaf coffee beside me as I prepare for the fast this evening. While Yom HaKippurim will have come and gone by the time you see this, dear reader, the message of the piece I have in mind still stands.

It is not so easy to be a Jewish mom around the holidays. In the past, Rosh Hashanah and Yom HaKippurim meant something very different; going to Shul for most of the day, hosting or having guests or eating large family meals. It meant packing up to visit my extended family. Above all, there was conscious time and effort put into these holidays—and really any holiday—that included the religious, cultural and social aspects of the celebrated day.

Now, the week leading up to Yom HaKippurim has mostly included stress. Rosh Hashanah was lovely and I made it to shul briefly on the first day, feeling somewhat rushed, and then had shofar blown for me the second day. Please note—I’m not here to spark any debates about religious observance or how women approach the holidays. I’m here to talk about my own experiences.

My husband and I divided our time with regard to our kids, as they’re a bit too young to be left in groups, and we made sure that we each had the opportunity to engage in tefillah and the day in the way that felt best. This being said, my brain simply does not turn off. Juggling tefillah, figuring out meals, managing my kids and the feeding process for my baby, thinking about nap times and tangential thoughts about work and what comes next are all crammed into my head and continue to live up there as I type this piece this morning.

It’s just a lot. Trying to navigate being an adult and taking care of others while also connecting religiously and to my own thoughts and feelings—even as a very-connected-to-my-emotions person—is a challenge for me this time of year. I want to have everything fade away besides my recognition of the day and its meaning, and this has proven difficult.

There is always so much—whether actual obligations and responsibilities or the anxious thoughts swirling around my mind. My hope is always that it will all fade away, much like so many people expect when being led in a meditation—that the mind will be clear and expansive and slip into a state of relaxation. But, well, no. For most people intrusive thoughts arise and instead of trying to reject them, it is actually more effective to acknowledge them and invite them to return another time.

And so this year, especially now with two young kids, I’ve shifted my approach. I still take all the steps toward the holidays on a fundamentally religious level. And I still attempt to consider the social/cultural factors. But I tend to give myself grace in those areas. Maybe I can’t be in shul the entire time, but I can be sure to prioritize my tefillot—whether at shul or at home. Perhaps I’m not in a place to host lavish meals, but I can find one new recipe for my little family to honor the day.

For some people this might look like doing enough to simply survive the experience. For others the priority might be related to family traditions. It is about connecting with the individual values. It is about recognizing how life circumstances may lead to changes in how we engage, and being able to grieve, accept or even acknowledge our feelings on this matter and how life changes all around us—especially when we’re not looking. It’s about finding a tether that connects you with the day, with others, with Hashem, and with yourself.

As I think about Yom HaKippurim this evening, I’ve been vacillating between avoidance and panic for a number of reasons. And now, I’m trying to breathe. In so many ways, I’ve missed what the next day is all about and while I can acknowledge my anxiety and make a plan, I also want to bring myself back to the meaning of this day. So I’ve been thinking about how to do this, knowing that I’ll be home with both my kids, likely not feeling great. I’ve been singing Kol Nidrei, and in the moments between clients and between diapers and telling stories, I’ve been thinking about the year behind me, the person I am, and the person I want to be.

Our life experiences will constantly change, and that is both a beautiful and terrifying aspect of living. Instead of becoming stuck in expectations and all-or-nothing patterns, we can find small or big ways to approach the familiar in a different manner, prioritizing our values however possible.

While the new year has come and gone, I wish you, dear reader, a year ahead filled with growth, forgiveness and the strength to do what’s difficult even when you don’t feel brave.

Temimah Zucker, LCSW, works with individuals ages 18 and older in New York and New Jersey who are struggling with mental health concerns, and specializes in working with those looking to heal their relationships between their bodies and souls. Temimah is an adjunct professor at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, an advocate and public speaker concerning eating disorder awareness and a Metro-New York supervisor at Monte Nido. To learn more or to reach her, visit www.temimah.com 

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