Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Breaking Bread

We celebrated Rosh Hashanah last weekend with our Jewish friends Steve and Nancy and their two daughters.  Earlier in the week Nancy realized that her family wouldn't be able to make it to their regular service at synagogue.  They were going to have their own ceremony, she explained, and wouldn't we--the Mormons--like to join them?

"Of course," I said.  It made perfect sense.

When the day arrived, we drove to meet their family down by the neighborhood lake.  In the privacy of our own car, I tried to explain the ceremony to my family and begged them (particularly Max and Ryan) to refrain from silliness, to try and be thoughtful and respectful.  After all, I explained, it isn't every day we celebrate the Jewish new year.

We went down to the lake and stood on a small bridge; it was important to find a spot where the water was moving.  Nancy explained the tradition to us: the new year is about seeking forgiveness from those we have hurt or offended, giving up our sins, and promising God a new and improved version of ourselves in the coming year.  We then break pieces of bread and toss them into the water, giving each one the name of a sin we pledge to forsake this year.  The water then carries them away.  Kind of a beautiful thought, huh?

Before we got started, Nancy turned to me and said, "The most important part of this tradition is the part where we ask forgiveness from others.  So, I'm sorry if I've been a pain in the ass to you at any point over the last year."

I laughed.  "Likewise," I said.

We turned and faced the water.  Nancy tore a piece of bread and threw it as she exclaimed, "Impatience!"

I was still holding my piece of bread, trying to decide how to organize my sins--alphabetically?  Or in order of most grievous?

"Impatience!  Impatience!  Impatience!  Impatience!" she rattled off, a small tear of bread for each one.

I already felt behind.  I tore a piece and tossed it.  "Financial stupidity," I said.

"Good one," Nancy said.  "I'm going to use that one too.  Financial stupidity!" She threw another piece in.

And then it was as if the floodgates opened, the sins lined up in orderly rows for each of us, anxious to be announced and airborne.  We all stood there, tossing our sins over the edge, one after another after another, and watched them pool in the slow-moving water below.

"My temper," someone said.
"Expecting too much of others," said someone else.
"Breaking someone's toy," said a voice that sounded like Max.
"Jumping to conclusions."
"Not being present."
"Not listening."
"Making a big deal out of small things."
"Not doing things the first time I'm asked."
"Not taking enough time for my spirituality."
"Being too hard on myself."
"Being too hard on others."
"Fighting with my sister."
"Making fun of my brother."
"Hitting my sister with a piece of bread." (Those Jews are hilarious.)
"Not reaching for my potential."
"Hurting other's feelings."
"Being too sarcastic."
"Wanting what I don't have."
"Obsessing about things I want."
"Not enough exercise."
"Not listening to my kids." (I think this one got an "Amen.")
The lists went on.

Sometime around the point when my piece of bread was nearing vanish, Max came next to me, urgent to get another piece of bread.  He hadn't been standing by me, and I hadn't been paying close attention to him.  I was too caught up in casting away my many sins, I guess.  He took a stale roll and tore a piece.  He flung it out into the water and yelled, "Recycle!" and then tore another piece and shouted, "Be good at school and don't get in trouble for talking too loud."

I watched him out of the corner of my eye as he tossed piece after piece, shouting each statement with gusto.

"Love Jesus!" (This made the Jews laugh.)
"Be nice to America!"
"Don't yell at your mom!"
"When you meet a new kid, go up and say, 'Hi! What's your name?'"
"Don't lock your bedroom door ever again!" (His only real sin of the day.  I'd spent an hour dissecting his doorknob.)
"Don't break your brother's toys!"
"Be nice to Barack Obama!" (I guess he's been reading my mom's emails.)
"Eat good food for your body!"
"Love someone in the heart!" (That's the maximum amount of love, according to him.)

He went on and on, until the stale little roll was gone and a scatter of little crumbs sat at his feet.  I was wearing sunglasses; they hid my big, fat tears.  I hadn't expected him, a six-year-old, to be so.....introspective.  He seemed to be so careful and thoughtful about this, and his observations were so universal.  I should have thrown another piece of bread and said, "Not giving Max enough credit."

But all the bread was gone.

We stood around for a few minutes.  We thanked them for inviting us and walked back to our cars.  I felt a little lighter, a little sober, more committed to a better new year.  I looked at myself, my husband, my children, my friends, with new eyes.  I thanked God for an unexpected spiritual moment.

And as our bread crumbs slowly made their way down the stream to disintegrate and dissolve into the memories of last year, we continued our celebration of Rosh Hashanah by going out for Chinese food all together.  It made perfect sense.


Soul-Fusion said...

What a great experience! And just so you know, I love Max, he really is the greatest.

the lunch lady said...

thanks for this. i was feeling so cross with my 14-year-old daughter this morning, and this really helped give me perspective.

Dede said...

I want to bookmark this and reread it everyday. That Max-he's one of a kind. That made my week. Gosh, you guys are on a roll with making my week ;)

annie said...

what an experience! i love utah, don't get me wrong, but all the more reason to get out and try the world!!!

Jesse C said...

What a beautiful practice. It made me want to do it. Max is great. I'm going to try to love someone in the heart.

Emily said...

I absolutely love this post. What an awesome experience!

Katie said...

I love this - what a great tradition!

And I love your blog. You inspire me to be a writer. Or something like unto it. Someday.

Kristina P. said...

How awesome! My boss is Jewish and she takes all Jewish holidays off work. But I've never really talked to her about them.

Tiffany said...

"Wishing I could write as good as the other Tiffany!"

Angie said...

That's beautiful, and it makes me want to find a river and do the same thing. Max is sweet.

Suzie said...

Totally made my morning to read this.
Here's to onward and upward!

Lindy-Lou said...

There is a great big heart in Max's little body. This was very moving. Thanks for using your talent to bless us all.

Krista said...

This might be my favorite post ever from you Miss Tiffany. I. Love. It. And will be thinking about it all day.

Leslie said...

Ditto to all of the above!

I, too love Max! I love the way his mind works!

rychelle said...

i loved this. thank you for sharing it.

Christy said...

What a fantastic way to bond with your neighbors! Makes me just want to gather my neighbors around the lake. Wait I don't have a lake. Maybe we could gather around the fire pit.

You write so beautifully! It was very funny & inspirational at the same time.

Anonymous said...

I so want to try that with my kids! What a neat experience! It would be fun to see what they feel are problems at this time in their lives!

I love Max! Could just kiss him till my lips fell off!

heidi b

aimee heff said...

I needed that today.


I will be the first to read your book.

Becky said...

Wow. What a cool experience! I can't imagine doing that with any of my neighbors though. Maybe if we had a lake.....

courtney said...

TIFF! so, so good. i've had a brutally tiring week (and i can't believe it's only wednesday!) and barely had the energy to read blogs or get inspired or do pretty much anything.

want to know something that's pretty cool, though? whatever i *have* managed to do, i've come across little things that have fed my spirit just a lil bit. i checked my email and got a fantastic email from a pastor friend of mine that was incredibly well-timed; downloaded some new podcasts and loved them (listening to podcasts, after all, doesn't require anything but laying down on the couch), and now checked your blog and came across this post.

mm. i need me some bread. thanks tiff. rock on.

buddens said...

That totally makes me want to celebrate it from now on! What a cute kid that Max is.

shannon p. said...

I want to be Jewish - okay, not really, but I love this holiday - it makes me want to know more about all of the other Jewish holidays - I thought they were just made up excuses to take the day off of work (who knew!)

What if the ducks are eating the bread - would that still count? What a sweet boy that Max is - from the mouths of babes!

Ginnie said...

I really like this post, but I have one question. Is being sarcastic really a sin? Please say you were just being sarcastic.

Kami said...

My favorite of Max's is " Say Hi! What's your name?" What a sweet boy he is. Sounds like you guys are making great friends out there.

I love this post.

Annie said...

I wasn't going to leave a comment because you already have so many nice ones, but I want to throw out my "I'm too shy to give compliments" sin and tell you this is a wonderful post! I've always had a special place in my heart for Judaism. And Chinese food.

katie said...

I want your neighbors. Mine are all weird.

MiaKatia said...

You should do a post where you collect submissions on what we are tossing our bread for. Fantastic post!

Omgirl said...

What a wonderful holiday tradition! I would adopt it for our Christian New Year's celebrations if it didn't require me to stand out in the bitter cold and freeze my butt of trying to find an unfrozen river. Maybe I'll become Jewish so I can do it in September instead.

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