My first Rosh Hashanah “out,” I felt utterly lost. It was the first yom tov I wasn’t celebrating with my family – I had been still pretending to be frum on Pesach, I had been attempting to soften the blow on Shavuos, but for Rosh Hashanah I wanted to stay away.
I was supposed to be free. And yet, as the sun set on Erev Rosh Hashanah, I felt – lost. Adrift. I could have gone home, to my apartment. But I knew I would feel alone and closed in there.
So I sat in Union Square and watched the crowds, watched from my own little bubble. I texted a school friend, who commiserated with my plight though he couldn’t understand it.
And then the ball from a nearby ballgame landed right at my feet, and I picked it up and made eye contact with the boys whose ball it was, and they smiled at me and laughed and motioned for me to throw it to them, and I lobbed it softly back at them – all while sitting with my back uncomfortably against the stone wall and my legs stretched out in front of me.
Suddenly I wasn’t alone, suddenly I wasn’t closed in. I was still lost and adrift, but there were others who smiled at me, who cared about this stranger, even when they couldn’t know my struggle and couldn’t help me with it in any case.
I’ve come a long way since then. It’s only been three years, but this past Rosh Hashanah wasn’t full of angst and longing and imagining each part of the day and what my family was doing and how I wasn’t there.
It wasn’t full of some inexplicable feeling of guilt that I wasn’t observing the minhagim, it wasn’t full of some inexplicable pull to mark the day somehow, whether in compliance or defiance of my family’s traditions.
This year, I was finally free.