Sticky Fingers

by Carrie Bornstein

Today is one of my favorite days of the year at Mayyim Hayyim: the day we put the honey sticks next to our front door in anticipation of Rosh Hashanah.  Usually I hold off – waiting until the world’s birthday arrives to reunite my apple with its honey. 

But today… let’s just say that my fingers are sticky as I type.

My first time learning the original sources about Rosh Hashanah was at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, with one of my favorite teachers, Rabbi Zvi Wolff.  I was ready to jump in – to learn the basis for one of the holidays I’d celebrated my whole life.

But after four weeks of intensive study about the structure of the Rosh Hashanah service, how to make amends with people we have wronged, and Who by Fire and Who by Water, I raised my hand.

“Um, Zvi?”

He glanced up reluctantly, possibly anticipating what would come next.

“Rosh Hashanah starts tomorrow night…”

“Yes?”

“Well, this is our last class before that.”

“And?”

“This is all so heavy.  We’ve been focusing on t’shuvah (repentance), calling out to God, and the very day that God decides whether or not I’m going to live through the next year.  What about the festivities?  The apples?  The honey?  Happy New Year!?”

I couldn’t believe that such major representations of the holiday were not overtly noted in the text.  I learned that even though we have brought this symbolism to the holiday, its essence, textually, is much more weighty.

This past month of Elul offers weeks of reflection time – to consider our relationships with one another, with God, and our place in the world.  We have a chance to right what needs fixing, and commit to doing better in the future, petitioning for another year.

Perhaps it is precisely because of Rosh Hashanah’s gravity that we cling so tightly to the lightness of apples and honey.  It’s just too scary without it.

So as our waters become filled with all those looking to mark the transition from one year to the next, a simple honey stick makes the weight of the holiday just a little more sweet.

Start your new year with a gift that’s sweet.  Your gift to Mayyim Hayyim ensures a welcoming and safe experience in Boston, changes the face of Jewish ritual, and allows us to consult to communities around the world. 

Carrie Bornstein is Mayyim Hayyim’s Executive Director.  Follow her on twitter @carolinering.

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