rosh hashanah

After A Family Tragedy, I Learned To Be Grateful This Rosh Hashanah

rosh hashanah

A few weeks ago, in the midst of a particularly hectic time in my life, my friend Lee, one of my oldest and dearest friends, called me in her signature upbeat and singsong style and asked, “Hi Maya, quick question for you: want to start a gratitude havruta?”

At 7:30 a.m., almost any call I get goes straight to voicemail, but for some reason Lee and I have the kind of friendship where we always pick up the phone, but also have no problem being really quick and very abrupt in our responses.

“And what might that be?” I answered with a decent amount of annoyance in my voice.

“Every day I will email you something I am thankful about, no matter how personal, for your eyes only. You do the same. Before Rosh Hashanah next year, we will each print a book so we can look back at all the great things in our lives no matter how hard it seems at the moment.”

Something about this proposition grabbed me. “Done,” I agreed and by 7:32 I had entered into a contract of sorts with Lee—someone who holds people highly accountable for what they’ve said they would do.

Within a few minutes, I had a very simple email in my inbox, listing a highly personal reason to be thankful and happy. I was reluctant to respond, but I took the plunge and sent off a heartfelt one liner. After a few days it became ritual, something I looked forward to each morning with my coffee, and something that momentarily took me out of my rut and forced me to see something positive and beautiful in the mundane.

Perspective can change everything.

Earlier this month, my husband’s aunt, uncle, and two cousins were in a tragic car accident. They were driving from Toronto to Montreal to attend a family wedding when a truck driver across the highway lost control of his wheel for a split second while dozing off. The accident was fatal, claiming the life of my husband’s 27-year-old cousin, Moshe Kadoche, and leaving his aunt, uncle, and cousin in a very fragile state.

This happened during Elul, the month before Rosh Hashanah—a sensitive and introspective time associated with repentance. In this time leading up to the High Holidays, it is hard to comprehend a tragedy like this one without thinking about it in the context of this holy Day of Judgement, and for me the questions are endless, sending my mind off to the races each night and into the wee hours.

Was Moshe done with his earthly duties? Was he exempt from this Day of Judgement because he was pure and holy and ready for a better world, one where he is side by side with the creator? Or is life simply unfair, uncalculated, and just brutal? To me, the latter makes a new day very difficult to face.

As I think of our aunt and uncle who will go into the High Holidays without their youngest child, their only son, my heart aches as I grapple to reach for answers. But then I close my eyes and re-create that perspective that I have mastered in the mornings with my coffee and ritual with Lee, and somehow things feel a little easier to digest.

The notion that “when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change” is very real. Perhaps it’s the millennial in me that has this never ending desire to translate each experience into a meaningful one, but in the days since this tragedy, I have hugged each of my kids a little tighter and given them a little bit of extra love and patience, no matter how busy, stressed, and tired I have been. I think of Moshe—a pure soul, an amazing friend, a devoted uncle, someone who loved and was loved in a very uncomplicated way, and I try to emulate those qualities and do a little extra something in his honor.

This Rosh Hashanah, I strive to shift the way I think and feel. I have Lee to thank for our gratitude moment that has helped me see the glass half-full, and Moshe to thank because I want to live in the moment and not miss out on a single great opportunity to do good or feel good or have those around me feeling loved and encouraged. These difficult experiences in life have the power of fortifying us to do more and strive for better, and for me, this is that moment.

May Moshe’s memory be a blessing and may the attitude of gratitude be woven into the fiber of our being for this very short period of time we call life.

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Maya Cohen Abitbol

Maya Cohen Abitbol is a New Yorker by way of Jerusalem. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and three little ones where she juggles a full time career, motherhood and some other creative interests in her spare time.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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