Over the past four years, I’ve been actively exploring my relationship with Judaism, Jewish culture, and my personal spirituality. What I’ve realized is that while I feel connected to Jewish traditions, values, and the concept of a higher power, I don’t feel spiritual connection in synagogue. Reading prayers in Hebrew during services just doesn’t do it for me.
I enjoy the Jewish High Holidays for the opportunity to connect with “framily” — my close friends who feel like family, whom my husband and I first met when at the JCC when we were newlyweds and new in town. Ten years later, these are now our lifelong friends, with whom we spend Kol Nidre, the Yom Kippur break fast and Passover seders.
We joined our local synagogue because it felt the most like “home” to me and my husband, and our girls attend Hebrew and Sunday school there. I like our synagogue very much — we enjoy attending young family Shabbat services, decorating the Sukkah and celebrating holidays with the congregation. But I don’t attend High Holiday services there.
Don’t get me wrong — I like Rosh Hashanah. I enjoy reflecting on the past year, remembering the hopes and dreams I had for myself and my family. Last year, my oldest daughter started kindergarten. The nerves and emotions I felt this time last year have given way to excitement over how much she’ll enjoy the 1st grade; and my twins will now begin preschool in separate classrooms, the first time they’ll be apart.
But I’ve found I don’t feel particularly spiritual when I’m praying inside a sanctuary. Rather, I feel connected to a higher power in other ways — namely yoga, meditation, writing, and enjoying nature by hiking, biking or camping. Last year I kicked off my Yom Kippur fast with a meaningful hot yoga class. And this year, on Rosh Hashanah, instead of hearing the shofar blow 100 times in synagogue, I’ll be doing a 100-mile bike ride.
I seek a spiritual experience on Rosh Hashanah. I’m riding my bike because it combines the elements of being outdoors with physical movement, and that’s a double whammy for me when it comes to connecting with the divine.
The Jewish New Year is a reminder to take stock in where I am in my life and where I want to go. As I grip the handlebars, pedal round and round, and watch the ground fly below me, I am transported to a quiet and reflective place in my mind. I cannot predict where my mind will go, but I know I will connect to the tender places in my heart, and explore areas I want to focus on, like my marriage, and my evolving relationships with my daughters. I will also think about how I can be my most authentic self, and live and behave with love and kindness as my guiding intention.
When it comes to repentance, I’m not waiting to give loved ones one big annual “I’m sorry.” As the mother of three young daughters, I feel like I repent and ask for forgiveness daily, because it’s what they need for their emotional growth and development — they know even Mama can be wrong, and that’s OK. I can easily admit fault and wrongdoing with my husband because our relationship is built on mutual love, respect, and teamwork, not ego.
So, on Rosh Hashanah, I will be working up a major sweat and pushing my body to the extreme (this is my first hundred-mile ride). I anticipate this will subsequently push my mind to places it has never been before, either. At the end of my long and exhausting day, I will look forward to reuniting with my family. Together we will welcome the New Year with apples, honey and challah, and then I will collapse into bed, and fall into an exceptionally deep sleep with dreams for a very sweet New Year.