The Book of Life

On Wednesday afternoon my mother asked me to pick up sour cream, candlesticks, and--if I had the time-- to select a couple of prayers for Rosh Hoshanah dinner at her house that night. 


I spent the afternoon on the internet looking at pictures of men blowing shofars, apples dipped in honey, and page after page of suggestions for how to hold your own home ritual, high holy-day style.

I selected several official looking prayers, two poems by the poet Marge Piercy, the astrological significance of Rosh Hoshanah as it falls on the first day of the month of Libra, a Kabbalistic interpretation of the New Year, some really bad jokes about rabbis, illustrated memes like "Shofar, so good," and directions for how to recite the Tashlich, preferably by a river with fish, but whatever you do DON'T FEED THE FISH. 

I printed out three copies of this DYI handbook and brought them to my mother's house along with the candle sticks and sour cream, feeling more at home in the role of daughter, of Jewish daughter, of Jewish daughter who lives across the street from her mother, than perhaps ever before. 

My relationships with Judaism, with my mother, with life in general, have been tricky. Nineteen years ago I was a stewardess on an Alaskan cruise ship and when it docked I was prepared to sail on to my next adventure, wherever, whatever, or whoever that might be. No matter that my last boyfriend wanted to kill me, that my addictions were a fire burning me alive, that I had no plan other than to just keep moving. 

I called my mother from a payphone in the San Juan Islands. Come home, she begged. It's Rosh Hoshanah, she said. Your uncle's getting married. Come home, And for some reason I did. I haven't been to temple in a thousand years. My relationship with my mother isn't always easy. But when the high holy days come, I always feel the voice that called me back to myself alive at her table. 

Wednesday night my mother's table was glorious with a colorful table cloth, apples and honey, slivers of almonds, a bowl of fresh figs, chalices of freshly blended raspberry smoothies, the family's silver candlestick holders. I've never led the prayer before at her table but last night we read and laughed and listened and ate up every morsel of brisket and apple cake. With all of the chaos and insanity in the world, with all of the uncertainty in the lives of people I love, with less time spreading across my horizon and the people surrounding me impossibly dear, I want to be inscribed again in the Book of Life, as much or more than I've ever wanted it before. 

Valley HaggardComment