Driving through the sleepy town of Beit Shean last week, we were stopped by police. At that moment I had three young adults, one of whom I’ve once given birth to, in the back of the car, so I therefore cursed vigorously, but very quietly. I was obliged to swear, universally that’s the appropriate response when you get waived to the side by police. As I sat next to the driver, I opened the window on the curb side, trying to understand what the police wanted, but I couldn’t hear what they were saying because there was a whole school-class of smallish kids jumping up and down next to the open window. As I was trying to get a grip on the situation, a very excited girl stuck a plate of apples-pieces into the car, while her sticky friend countered her movement with a matching bowl of honey. “Take some apples and honey”, they shrieked. Still trying to figure out what the police wanted, I took a piece of apple. “The driver too, give him apple and honey”, the children ordered me. “A sweet and happy new year”, the grinning kids all howled, while the cops, still wearing their cop-expression, did the authoritative wave backwards and ordered me to make room for another car. By the time I understood what just happened we had already driven away. I really wanted to go back and kiss the sticky children, but maybe not the police, and wish all of them a Happy New Year.
Annoyingly often, a musical phrase gets stuck in a loop in my brain. It can be a line from a song, the cell-phone signal or something random I heard on the radio. The music starts without previous notice and disappears the same way, but it can keep buzzing through my head for hours, or even days. It’s really annoying and I try my best to get out of the loop, either by remembering how the melody continues, or by trying to change the broken record for another composition of my choice, or by singing “Hey Jude”, which, by the way, never works. (For those of you who read Swedish, I just noticed that that is a joke). Towards the end of each summer, that cordless, soundless, brain-humming starts playing regularly, but at that point not with a random piece of music, but with the traditional liturgy for the Jewish New Year. Here is a clip featuring the hippie, guru and revolutionary of Jewish soul-music, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach singing the tune that I hear in my head:
The music playing on my internal iTune is as if my biological clock is on Jewish time and knows the time of year. And with this music, unlike all the other noise, I welcome it. This music is so deeply ingrained in my soul that it feels like a kind of physical movement.
This is the Jewish high-season of the soul. The month of Tishrei, which roughly coincides with September, is packed with what we call the High Holidays. Despite the name, there are no drugs involved, but a lot of prayer and food. Tell me what you think there is too much of, and I’ll tell you who you are.
On my way to synagogue on the first morning of the holiday, I met a friend who was jogging in the opposite direction. We didn’t stop, both of us were busy getting to where we needed to be, we only smiled as we went our opposite ways.
A streetsign, some poetry-for-the-people project near my neighborhood, says something like “The body is the working-place of the soul”. I love it, but unfortunately I don’t think it’s entirely true. If it was, I could stop excercising altogether and only read books. The relationship between body and soul seems more symbiotic then that. There is soul-music and soul-food, both of which are of the physical world, but have the ability to move the soul. Sometimes my soul calls out for chocolate, which is also a phenomenon somewhere halfway between physical and spiritual. My friend, the jogger I met in the street, has become a happier person since she started exercising. The happiness is not derived from her muscle-tone, being strong and fit does something to her entire being. So she was jogging, and I was on my way to pray. Whatever works for you. I’m not sure that only one of these methods holds the answer.
And on Friday is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when we fast to free up time for our soul-searching. That, is very serious stuff. Not sad, but profound. Synagogues and prayer-halls all over the world are never as full as they are on Yom Kippur. There are no cars on the streets of Jerusalem, out of respect for the holiness of the day, nobody drives. Including the local Moslems, which I see as a gesture of great kindness.
After 24 hours without food or drink, you feel very keenly how intimately body and soul are connected. The older I get, the easier it gets to fast, but fasting is still a powerful enough experience to make me humble and grateful that I have the privilege of being able to eat what I want, when I want. And you do save a lot of time by not eating.
For those who celebrate the holidays, I wish you Chag Sameach, Happy Holidays. For those who are content to read about it, don’t forget to balance body and soul. Here is Barbara Streisand singing a part of the Yom Kippur prayer.