In addition to it being the first day of fall, today is also Yom Kippur, which marks the final day of the Jewish High Holidays.
I don’t talk about my faith much, as I feel it’s a deeply personal thing. This time of year, though, the High Holidays, is one of my favorite times and I can’t help talking about it. It begins with Rosh Hashanah, one of the sweetest holidays in the Jewish calendar – the mark of a new year, a chance to be the best you can be going forward. It’s a time of hope, celebration, and as usual in Jewish holidays, lots of food.
For me, it also brings the memory of my Grandpa, who passed away on the second day of Rosh Hashanah 20 years ago. It’s surreal to me that I’ve now lived more than half my life without him. He and my grandmother enter my thoughts nearly every day, but never more so than this time of year, which always brings it all flooding back – me waking suddenly, knowing something was up; the middle of the night phone call; the hasty packing and drive to New York; the first true grief I had ever known. It’s hard to think of it at all without tears, to be honest.
I heard once that we lose our most special people during the High Holidays. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s always brought me comfort, that my grandpa was one of the special ones. He definitely was to me, and every time the High Holidays come around, I’m reminded to live my life like he and my grandmother did. To be an example for my daughter, who is named for him. To be kind, and loving, and thirsty for knowledge. To persevere through hard times and be independent as my grandmother was.
I worry sometimes that I won’t ever be able to convey to Abbie just how much this time of year means to me – that she won’t understand it. It’s a hard thing to explain, and I sometimes worry that being an interfaith family will confuse her. I want her to have the freedom of choice, but I also want her to know her own heritage. Her great-grandparents will only exist in stories and photographs to her, and it’s up to me to teach her about them. It’s up to me to teach her all that the High Holidays mean.
So now it’s Yom Kippur – a time to reflect, a time to atone, a time to forgive. As most secular Jews will tell you, it’s the most important day of the year. While I am far from the most religious, this is one day I always keep for myself – not working, fasting, and just taking the time to reflect.
My grandparents are never far from my mind on this day, and they connect to all the things I want to be – all their best qualities that I want to embody. To be kind like my grandfather, determined like my grandmother, to persevere as they both did. To remember those values every day and as the new year blooms, to work to embody all those values I hold dear.
And to make sure Abbie knows just where she comes from, and just what these days mean.