I am sitting in the synagogue. Again.
My friend Batya is standing at the front of the congregation about to give a short talk. “Here we are, all together.” She says. “Here we are, all together…again.” She’s making a point about Shemini Atzeret, the holiday we are observing, but maybe also a point about the sheer number of holidays we have observed lately. The Jewish month of Tishrei has more holidays than any other; in the past three weeks there have been twelve days worth of holidays. We have been together. A lot. And this particular holiday is solely about being together. Again.
But, while we might be ready to have regular life back, while we are even getting tired of holidays (the next Jewish month, Heshvan, actually has no holidays at all—possibly to give us a break), we are together and I’m glad.
On September 30th I said the last Kaddish in the eleven months of observing this mitzvah for my mother.
It was the day before Sukkot began. For eleven months I went to the synagogue just about every day. I took shelter there. I allowed my heart to heal within its walls. I got back on my feet, feeling its floor beneath me. I moved through seasons. Then it ended. I read a prayer of thanks for the community, received a lot of hugs and it was over. That night, Sukkot began and life moved, at least temporarily, outside.
Sukkahs are flimsy. They are meant to be. The same ceiling that allows us to see the stars lets the rain in and makes the floor soft with mud. The walls have gaps and a strong wind could blow the whole thing over. Overnight, I moved from the solidity of concerete and stone into the uncertainty of canvas walls and bamboo roof.
Except I didn’t.
The same people were there, all through Sukkot. The same people with whom I spent an hour every morning, or an hour on Saturday afternoon praying. The people with whom I shared meals, and who waited patiently while my sense of humor returned. The same people with whom I practice yoga, or drink beer, or watch baseball. The people who taught me to tie knots and pack a frame pack for days of hiking. The person to whom I read and with whom I play catch. The person who used to read to me when I was small. And the person who went with me to a sukkah in the Occupy DC camp in McPherson Square last Sukkot. They are all here with me as I move out into the world again.
So while those who continue to say Kaddish stand to recite it, I sit and I hope I support them–hold them up as much as they held me. Because we are all temporary and so much more fragile than those structures we built for the holiday that just passed. But today we are here. Together for one extra day.