There are a few main mitzvos (commandments) for Sukkos. One is to dwell in a sukkah. Another is to shake the lulav and esrog. A third is to be happy, joyous. We’re commanded to be joyous, which is kind of crazy – how do you enforce that? What does “joyous” mean, and by what measure is your joy weighed? In this time of holiday-but-not-chag of Sukkos (also known as “chol ha’moed” – literally, “weekdays of the festival”) we greet each other with the words “moadim l’simcha” – “times of joy.”

I’m finding this to be a very easy mitzvah to follow this year!

The final blast of the shofar will never sound the same.

In the weeks leading up to Yom Kippur, a lot of thought was given to where I would be davening. More specifically, where I would not be davening. Last year, the chaggim were very emotional for me, as they were for many others. A good friend was in the hospital, dying, and we did not know when we would get The Call. His fiancée, one of my best friends, had asked me to keep my phone on over the chaggim, and the shabbos in between, so I could be reached with The Call. I agreed. Having a phone in my pocket, left on, was very heavy. I did not use it, I tried not to think about it, but I felt it and could not stop remembering why I had it in my pocket. The phone did not ring. I returned to the hospital each day to sit with my friend, support her. On Yom Kippur, my phone did ring. I left during the martyrology service, leaving my tallis behind. And I ran. I ran from 82nd and Broadway, the Upper West Side, up and through Central Park to Mount Sinai hospital, 101st and 5th, the Upper East Side.

A difficult decision had been made: our friend would be taken off life support the next day. At the request of a parent (hers? his?), I helped my friend from the room where the meeting had been held. We sat by her fiancé’s bedside for hours. Long after his family had left. We sat there, mostly in silence, until I was able to take her home for a sleepless night. I don’t remember much about that night, but I do remember my friend asking, “What do I wear to unplug my fiancé?” Always sardonic, humour was her way of getting through this.

The next morning, we were back at the hospital early, giving her time to continue her goodbye before his family arrived. As his loved ones gathered, prayers were said, many tears were shed… Eventually the doctors said it was time and… We stood around his bed, watching him take his last breath. There are so many flashes of images and sounds from those last moments… Powerful memories.

A year later, I can still clearly see his brother and father turning to each other and ripping each other’s shirts, starting their public mourning.

And so, as Yom Kippur drew near, my thoughts turned to these memories, and many more. I decided that I would have a better chance of focusing on my davening were I not in New York, at my favourite place for Yom Kippur, where I was last year, remembering everything that happened last Yom Kippur. In Brookline, I was not successful in focusing on davening. Before musaf, I was remembering the weight of the phone in my pocket. Come the martyrology, I was anxious, remembering how I left services abruptly to run across town. And the yizkor service pushed me over; I should have brought Kleenex.

After mincha, ne’ilah, and ma’ariv, the final blast of the shofar signaled that, yes, it was time to break the fast. But also signaled the day that our friend died, that the world lost a truly great person. Fewer than 12 hours later, I stood with his family and close friends in a small minyan, marking his yahrtsayt.

I wish the sound of his father’s cries, and his cries while davening, weren’t so familiar.

It started with a simple invitation. “My apartment will be empty over Yom Kippur; you’re welcome to stay here.” Standing in my friend’s kitchen, preparing for Shabbos, it seemed rather simple. What she forgot, however, was that her boyfriend was there too. The boyfriend with whom she had recently moved into this new apartment. It wasn’t her apartment, it was theirs.

He reminded her of this. I tried to make myself as small and out of the way as possible while they started discussing their relationship, opening up old debates, touching on sore topics. I tried to excuse myself to the living room, but they followed me out there, continuing to talk. I feigned a yawn, curled up on the sofa, and hoped we could all just settle down for some naps. (It had been a long Rosh Hashanah.) As they continued talking about their relationship, I grew increasingly uncomfortable, until, finally, I said I could go for a walk to give them their privacy. “No, stay. It would be good to have a witness to this.” She continued, chuckling a little, “You could be like our couples therapist…”

The sofa was comfortable, I was tired, and it just seemed simpler to stay where I was. I decided to try to tune them out. Instead, I heard my good friend, with whom I had had many abstract conversations about marriage and children over the years, make those topics personal. I was shocked. Here was my friend who had never seemed interested in marriage, who had expressed that she did not ever want to get married, talking about marriage. Here was my friend who had voiced reasons for never wanting to get pregnant, for never wanting to have children or raise them, talking about having children.

I was blown away by the emotion. I was trying not to cry. I was so honoured to witness their conversation about their future: wanting to get engaged, plan a marriage, commit to one another, plan on spending their lives together, having babies and raising them together. My efforts were for naught. As they continued talking, making their wants and desires known to each other, tears rolled down my cheeks.

My role as couples therapist was short lived. The only thing I said in that capacity? How proud I was to hear my friend express herself, to witness how much she had grown in this relationship. And how honoured I was to have witnessed it all. B’sha’ah tovah!

After ten twelve years of blogging, with many a break taken, I’m not sure what this blog will look like. I’m not sure how often I’ll use it. But I still have things to say, and I want to resume regular writing. So… here we go.

That first post was a draft I found, saved but not published on my old blog. It seemed as good a place to start as any…

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