This is the first Rosh Hashanah where J has been living at a continuing care community because of her advancing Alzheimer’s disease. At her doctor’s recommendation, I did not bring her home for our usual holiday dinner. The dinner itself was joyous. Both our adult children were there as well as friends so close that they are family. We said the traditional prayers and discussed issues of the day. We laughed and ate and drank: gefilte fish, brisket, kugel, challah, apple cake. Washed down with wine.
I missed J most in the kitchen. She was not there as I chopped the fish or kneaded the bread. Grating onions was not the only cause of my tears.
I didn’t get the opportunity to visit J until last night. I brought her a bag of Granny Smith apples. She really lit up. “Oh! These are my best,” she said. We washed an apple for her. She bit in with a resounding crunch. She giggled. Her eyes blazed.
The metaphor of the High Holidays is that the Book of Life opens on Rosh Hashanah and remains open until the last moments of Yom Kippur. During the High Holidays, we repeatedly say a prayer called Unetanah Tokef. It underscores that it will be written who will live and who will die in the coming year; who by fire and who by water; who by sword and who by beast; who by heart disease and who by Alzheimer’s disease. Only teshuvah (returning,) tefilah (prayer,) and tzedakah (righteous acts) averts this harsh decree.
I still feel intermittent anger towards G-d. How could G-d take the vital, fiercely funny and intelligent J and turn her into someone who can only play dominoes with assistance?
Jews also say a daily prayer, acknowledging that the soul we were given is pure, no matter what. When I can practice teshuvah, the turning the tradition requires, I can see that J is returning to her pure essence. What a great deal we can learn from the way she eats an apple. There is unalloyed joy in the smell, crunch, juice, taste. Such laughter in her enjoyment.
May all beings experience such joy in 5777.