My family wanted me to spend time with them, even after I moved out and completely left religion behind. And it was nice to feel wanted, to feel missed. I wanted to spend time with them, too.
But there were complications. Family time happens on shabbos and yomim tovim. And as much as I enjoy a good meal with my family, the rituals of the days and the conversations about Torah that happen at each meal were at times unbearable.
My first Rosh Hashana “out,” I didn’t go home. I spent the day pretty much in a fog, trying to forget there was anything different about this day.
The second year, I went home for the full two days. My parents asked me to join the family, and my father promised I wouldn’t have to go to shul (thanks for the permission, Tatty). So I tried to make it work.
After all, what does it hurt me to participate in dipping the apple in the honey on Rosh Hashana? In saying the yehi ratzons on the fish head, the rimon, the carrots, the leeks, the black-eyed peas – all the simanim? It’s a beautiful tradition after all! It’s foods symbolic of a good year. What’s the harm in it?
I had a wonderful time with my family the first night. When my father and brothers came home from shul, they said “l’shana tova tikaseivi v’seichaseimi l’alter l’chayim tovim u’l’shalom” to each of the women individually, including me, and I smiled and nodded but didn’t say it back to them.
(By the way, do you realize how awkward it is to have someone say that somewhat long phrase to you, looking you directly in the eye, while other pairings are happening all around you, and then do-si-do, and switch partners, and do that all again? Fairly awkward – that’s how awkward it is.)
I woke up the next morning to the familiar sound of my mother’s voice saying “come on girls, davening started at 8, and if you want to get there before hamelech, you better get up. It’s already 8:30…”
My sisters groaned and buried their faces deeper into their pillows. I turned over and went back to sleep.
Next time I opened my eyes, my sisters had gotten dressed and left the room.
My mother popped her head in. “Are you planning to get up soon? We’re leaving now – you coming soon?”
I was still half asleep. It didn’t really register that my mother had just asked me if I was going to shul… I mumbled something and went back to sleep.
I got up later, when everyone was still at shul. I lounged around, had some coffee, read a few pages of my book.
Everyone came home during the break at 12:30, just before shofar blusen, as usual. My mother and father saw me in my comfy clothes and asked if I was planning on going for shofar now. Or was I planning on going later in the afternoon, when they do another blowing for the women who had to stay home with their kids?
I was a bit speechless. Were they really asking me this? Did my father’s promise that I wouldn’t have to attend shul not extend to shofar? Was it only from davening that I was exempt? Did he think the reason I didn’t want to go was because I would be bored by the long davening?
Did I have to spell it out for them again, that I was here to spend time with them, not to participate in religious rituals that I don’t believe in and that have nothing to do with family time?
Before I could say anything, my father turned his pleading eyes on me. “Just come,” he said. “Just come for the thirty kolos. You don’t have to stay for mussaf. Just hear the shofar.”
I didn’t go. Partly because I hadn’t actually brought any shul-worthy clothes with me. And partly because I just didn’t want to…
My father blew shofar when he got home after davening anyway, as he always does, so I did hear shofar after all.
It didn’t save my soul.