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The Embrace

Year after year, as this scene repeated itself, a piece of my heart would crack. And then, lonely despite the small hands in mine, I’d start the short walk home

I

t’s funny how it’s Yom Kippur that triggers me the most.

Rosh Hashanah in my parents’ home is beautiful and festive. So is Succos. On Simchas Torah, the excitement is palpable; Chanukah is eight days of gifts and treats; and don’t even get me started on Purim and Pesach. Yet it’s Yom Kippur that sends me into an overwhelm of homesickness, Yom Kippur when I feel so very far away from the home where I grew up.

Maybe it’s the solitude of the day, or the intensity of begging for life, blessings, and bounty. Or maybe it’s because the tunes the chazzan uses in the small Jerusalem shtibel where I daven are beautiful, but they’re not the right melodies.

But to be honest, I’m pretty sure it’s the fact that my mother’s all the way across the ocean.

Every Yom Kippur, as the baal tokeia blew the shofar and the men burst out into relieved singing of “L’shanah Haba’ah,” my mother would reach out to those nearest her in shul, embrace them, and wish them a gut yahr. For me, that was as much a part of the holy day as Mussaf.

And then I got married and crossed the ocean, moving thousands of miles away. I figured out what arnona and vaad habayit were, learned how to say rosemary in Hebrew, and discovered which bus offers the fastest route to the mall. But all the newfound independence and maturity in the world couldn’t make up for the fact that sometimes, I just wanted my mother.

The first Yom Kippur we were married, we were hurrying home from shul, giggling from the high of the day, when I stopped short. “But we don’t have anything good to eat!” I gasped.

My husband looked bewildered. “We have chocolate wafers and Shabbos leftovers!”

If it hadn’t been Motzaei Yom Kippur, I wouldn’t have spoken to him for the rest of the walk home. Wafers? The Yom Kippur fast must be broken on chocolate rugelach and orange juice. The meal needs macaroni salad and cheese platters, pasta primavera, zucchini soup, cauliflower florets. Not leftovers.

The next year, I bought the goodies and baked the pasta. But Motzaei Yom Kippur still didn’t feel like home.

By the next year, I was a young mother, venturing out only for Kol Nidrei and Ne’ilah, my tefillos concentrated into those last few desperate moments before the shofar blast. When it was over, I looked around for someone to embrace, someone to wish me a gut yahr, but my friends and neighbors were all gathering little ones, streaming toward home, planning their post-fast meals.

Year after year, as this scene repeated itself, a piece of my heart would crack. And then, lonely despite the small hands in mine, I’d start the short walk home.

So far, this year had followed the same script. I davened next to Sarah, an acquaintance of mine, as she rocked her newborn in a bassinet stroller. As we began Ne’ilah, the pace picked up, the pleading became more frenzied, the very roof was being lifted from the men’s raised voices — and Sarah’s baby did not appreciate it. Baby Hindy started screaming, her tiny body twisting and turning.

Sarah looked down at her… and did nothing. Pale and weak from fasting, she had no energy to lift her child.

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 662)

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