July 25, 2024
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Settling Into—and Accepting—the Stress of the Season

Editor’s note: This week we welcome a new monthly columnist, Rachel Zamist, from Passaic. Her column is called Option Z, because Option A didn’t work out… and B through Y didn’t go so great either. Option Z is about keeping on and staying strong when you don’t have any other choices. We hope you enjoy her wry, sharp and poignant writings as much as we do.

 

Now that the kids have settled into school, there has already been a shift from summer vacation mode to reality. We’re back on the carpool line and apparently cereal more than twice per week for supper seems inappropriate. And then we realize the Yom Tov season is upon us and the next round of stress begins. Whether we’re hosting or guesting over the next couple of weeks, inevitably we’re all busy, and some are even overwhelmed. While I am sure there are some that already have their freezers fully stocked and know exactly what each kid is wearing for each day to shul, others have woken up this morning and it finally hit them that they are hosting 15 people for each of the 20-plus meals we will be having over the next month and maybe it’s time to start working on menus and shopping lists.

And then there are those who have no plans. And not just no plans—no plans to even make plans. If you are single, you are probably in full panic mode. If you are married and going through a financial hardship, you probably have no idea how you are putting out all the Yom Tov meals let alone getting the kids new clothes. For those of us who, like me, have been widowed, or for any other reason find themselves in the untraditional Orthodox family, there’s the dreaded question that creeps up on us all this season: “What are your plans for Yom Tov?” Whenever I get asked this question, I have to first do a quick analysis of my audience. Is the person just being polite and doesn’t want the whole complicated plan or do they actually care and have a meaningful interest in my life? And then it occurs to me that even though it’s so obvious to me why the question is difficult for me to answer, maybe this question is loaded for everyone, because none of us know what is really going on in other people’s lives.

These next few weeks are filled with a thousand opportunities for everyone to be their best self. However, old habits die hard. I am the first one to admit the snap-judgement criticisms I do of others while I’m in shul on the yomim noraim. I see someone in shul without any of her kids, and my mind immediately ruminates on her parenting and wonder how she could leave all of her kids at home with the non-Jewish babysitter the whole day. And then I see the woman holding her 9-month old during shofar and then zipping out—did she actually think that kid would stay quiet? That baby is her fifth kid! Shouldn’t she know better? And then just two days before Sukkot, I’ll bump into someone in the grocery store and wonder why she has two wagons filled with groceries. Isn’t she more organized than that to be doing all her major shopping now? Here I was, wondering why the world isn’t more sensitive to me, when in my head I’m practically tearing people apart. Why can’t I—and the rest of the world—just be nice and not judge one another?

Amazingly, we have this Torah-mandated time period set aside during the year to focus on relationships we have with others, ourselves and God. And year after year, it seems like I blow it. What if this year I actually took the time to assess and improve the relationships I have with the people in my daughter’s school and the people at the checkout counter at Trader Joe’s and really figure out if I’m being my best self?

What if I took some time over the next couple of days to sit down with my machzor and thought about what I’m going to focus on during birkat kohanim and what I would like to be bentched with this year and then actually do that, rather than what I have done too many times before: trying to figure out how that woman has been standing the whole musaf in her three-inch heels?

A friend brought to my attention that in all her years, she’s never gone to a lecture or video presentation on the importance of being sensitive to other people’s needs. And she wonders why. I will take it a step further. If we live in a world in which we take a few moments to think before we act or speak, we will naturally just end up as better people.

Perhaps it’s not for just when it comes to talking to people going through a hard time, but even more when it comes to talking about them or thinking about them. I am certainly guilty of this and could do better. And I too have convinced myself that when I do talk about others and their tragedies—and even victories—I have an objective point to all my chatting. But deep inside, a voice says I don’t. The one thing I think I have is a sensitivity towards others—but I know it’s still not enough, because sometimes “saying nothing” is far more productive than saying anything at all.

Now that my daughter is actually almost 12, I seriously have no excuse to not be in shul all day. I have the best seat in the house, the davening is magnificent, and I’m only three blocks away so I can even go home for a break. But now that I’m actually at the stage in life that I can be in shul all day, the audacity of the day feels more real and far more intimidating than ever before. I fear I’m just going to blow this opportunity.

And then there’s the list. How do you figure out what makes the Rosh Hashanah “prayer list”? Do we start with good health and then move on to our kids or aging grandmother? What happens to our beloved land of Israel? Does that make the cut? Or the woman a few seats over who’s been married for more years than you can remember and still has no baby? Is asking for a successful year financially completely inappropriate? Like I should use this time for something more meaningful than money, right? I’m sure I’m not alone when believing that I know that money doesn’t solve any problems, but I imagine it would make my struggles easier. I guess I have some more work to do over the next couple of days.

The pressure is on. But I hope this tefillah season I will actually take this unique opportunity head-on and do all I can to make the most of it. I know there are no guarantees that I will nail it this year, or if me and Hashem will be on the same page with what I really want for this year, but you can’t blame a girl for trying. May I join klal Yisrael in begging for Hkb”h’s compassion and generosity so we at least have the ability to figure out what we really want from Him and more importantly, what He really wants from us.

By Rachel Zamist

 Rachel Zamist has lived in the Passaic community for the past 32 years and has watched it grow and transition. She is the beaming mother of Mimi, a seventh-grade student at Rachel’s own alma mater, YBH.

 

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