My first child was born in July, so this past Yom Kippur was my first Yom Kippur as a father. That need not be remarkable, of course, but for me it was.
The High Holiday liturgy constantly references our mortality, the precarious balance between life and death. I’ve always been good at repressing (or at least somaticizing) thoughts of my own demise, but I’m horribly anxious about something happening to my son.
As a new parent, everyone tells me how tired I look. But if I’m sleepy it’s not because I’m getting up to feed my child in the middle of the night (my wife who’s breastfeeding and on maternity leave has been taking care of that) – rather, it’s because I’m up every few hours with my hand on my son’s chest, feeling for a heartbeat, a breath. (Poo, poo, poo – as my mother would say!)
And so this Yom Kippur, I found myself more frightened than usual, worried that the Angel of Death would start trailing me and my family.
I also kept thinking back to last Yom Kippur.
I vividly remember Yom Kippur 2009, coming to the climatic holiday prayer, which famously asks “Who shall live and who shall die?” but also asks “How many will pass away and how many will be born?”
My wife was already trying to get pregnant, but wasn’t yet, and I remember thinking: How many will be born? Will mine be born?
And here I was, a year later, with my baby son in my arms.
Jewish holidays have their own themes, of course, but because they’re part of a recurring (even repetitive) cycle, they can also act as reference points for the themes in our own lives. While the concentration of Jewish holidays in September can be a little overwhelming — and I can’t say I’m upset they’re behind us — it’s always a very emotionally and intellectually generative time for me.
So now I’ve got lots to think about (and be thankful for) between now and Hanukkah.