It was pitch black when I arrived in the park this morning for my daily walk. Each park bench was occupied by a homeless person. Skunks were rifling through the garbage cans. None of the usual walkers were crazy enough to be there in those conditions.
It was also freezing and I considered sitting in the warm car until the sun rose and more people were present.
The homeless didn’t scare me; I know many of them, the way Reb Shlomo taught me on our Thursday all-nighters.
I was scared of the skunks. OK, I said it! I had a miserable confrontation with a skunk in 1966. It won. I lost. When I saw a tiny very elderly woman walk without fear, I figured that she would protect me.
Thank God she was there; I would have missed a wonderful experience if not for her courage. She did not need to protect me, and I could not walk behind her for too long because she, who wasn’t scared of the homeless or skunks was frightened by me. It must have been my good looks.
The walk that began in darkness quickly bece a journey through shades of light. The colors and light changed every few steps. I felt as if I were walking from one world into another.
More people began to appear, including Smiley and Grouchy. By then, it was just good ol’ regular Van Cortland park.
I considered walking backwards so I could recapture the different shades of light.
I couldn’t. It wouldn’t work anymore than walking backwards into the past to recapture the different shades of Rosh Hashana experienced in earlier years. Rosh Hashana seated as a 4 year old between my grandfather and father, or hiding under the Talit of one or the other had a quality of light and smell that make a treasured memory that will never be relived. ( I tried! I have my grandfather’s Talit.)
Rosh Hashana in Toronto was primarily observed in a private service conducted by yours truly serving as cantor, rabbi, Shofar blower, and Torah reader from my toy Torah. (I don’t want to complain, but when I told my father that the Torah he gave to me had a mistake he simply smiled and said that I was cute. I sensed that he wasn’t taking me seriously.)
The Rosh Hashanas that followed had their own irreplaceable colors and shades. The services were led by people no longer of this world. These holy people inspired all with awe and joy. We felt as if we were back in the Mir with Reb Dovid, a tiny man and a giant of Torah and service of God.
Rosh Hashana in Scranton had the special light of Reb Beryl Epstein’s gorgeous voice singing perfect nusach.
Rosh Hashana as a pulpit rabbi was even harder than my private service in Toronto. Saratoga Springs had different color than my all- time favorite pulpit in St. Louis. LA’s color was different from Lincoln Square Synagogue’s.
Friends formed a service in my home when everyone thought I was dying, which certainly colored my Rosh Hashana.
Our private minyan continues. It is not Rosh Hashana with my grandfather. It is not Toronto or Scranton or St Louis. In fact, each year has its own color and light.
I fondly recall each Rosh Hashana of the past but have no desire to travel back in time. I look forward to discovering new colors and shades of light each year. I am not the same person I was a year ago; why should my Rosh Hashana be the same?
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