July 14, 2024
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The Sounds of Rosh Hashanah

I sat in shul this Yom Tov focused on my davening. My seat was against a wall, where I prefer to sit, so as not to be distracted by the comings and goings of others. I had my eyes closed, and then suddenly I heard a wail. To be clear, this was not an ordinary sound. And no, I am not talking about the shofar. I am talking about the uncontrollable sobbing of the woman directly behind me. Her tears were flowing, her voice was shaking, crying, pleading with Hashem. It was direct and powerful. She was on a mission, begging God for a year of life. Like the crying of Rachel Imeinu, nothing would stand in her way. She proceeded in supplication throughout davening, and when it was over she wiped her tears, kissed her children and went on to her Yom Tov seudah.

On the second day of Yom Tov, I met someone on the street who davened at another shul, and they said, “We heard there was a woman in your shul who was sobbing non-stop. It must have really interrupted kavanah for people. I bet there were kids who were scared by seeing someone crying uncontrollably like that in shul.”

My first reaction was that it actually enhanced my kavanah to see someone connect in such a direct and heartfelt way to Hashem on this awesome day. I sat in shul and contemplated why I could not connect to my tefilah in that fashion. Surely, I have something to beg Hashem for at this time.

And then it occurred to me. We are a society of people who are afraid to feel and afraid to connect. These are the experiences of people with a mute button on every gadget. This is about the fear of emotional dysregulation and the inhibition of emotional expression. If I cry, what will others think? And these same people who are bothered by the cry go to weddings where the music is so loud that people lose their hearing. Why is it that we can stomach certain sounds, the ones we have decided are OK, and others, more visceral expressions of emotion, are shunned? When did we become a nation that finds a mother’s cries on Rosh Hashanah an interruption?

We are blessed with a day where in a world full of sensory overload we turn off all the external beeps and rings and go to shul. We are all there. We are there to fulfill the mitzvah of hearing the shofar, a sound that is chosen to represent cries, all 100 of them. We are OK with those cries. We make a blessing, shush our neighbors, stand silent and contemplative, and listen to the baal tokea.

But the cry of a Jewish mother, the heartfelt tears, the impassioned pleas begging for mercy, those we cannot stomach. Those cause us to become nervous. The real, deep crying is something too painful to hear.

I would like to send a message to the woman behind me in shul. I do not know you. We have never met. Thank you for enhancing my Yom Tov davening. Thank you for reminding me, and everyone else in shul, what it means to stand before God on a day of judgment and beg for His mercy. Thank you for your wails, which were the most beautiful shofar sounds of the year. They were pure. They were heartfelt. If your cries scared anyone in shul, they succeeded in their mission. We should be scared. Life and death is in the air.

A gmar chatima tova.

By Marla “Malkie” Schick, LCSW

 Malkie Schick, LCSW, is the director of behavioral health services at Ezras Choilim Health Center in Monroe, New York. She lives in Bergenfield with her husband and children and looks forward to a beautiful and heartfelt Yom Kippur davening.

 

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