In the sunny, sunny hours
bees sip nectar from the flowers
To the hive flies the bee,
making honey for you and me
Shiny apples, round and sweet,
what a happy Rosh Hashannah treat!
At work, I was trying to explain to one of my employees about why I am going to be out for part of the week. I was pretty sure that mentioning Rosh Hashannah was not going to get me very far. I could just say that’s it’s the New Year, I thought, then realized that this might result in a mixture of confusion and disbelief since everyone knows that New Year’s is January 1. Should I get into the differences between the solar calendar and the lunar calendar? Sigh. Perhaps I can just cite cultural differences, saying that, like the Chinese New Year, the Jewish New Year is celebrated at a different time of year than most of us associate with tearing off the last page of the calendar and making funky resolutions that are long forgotten by the time we get a month or two down the road.
Just then, it hit me: The children’s song about bees and flowers and apples and honey that most of us who attended a Jewish school remember from kindergarten. I hadn’t thought about this little ditty in decades, but somehow it all came back to me in a flash, along with memories of using blunt scissors to cut out paper apples that had our names written on them.
I smiled a goofy grin and explained to my employee that, in my faith, this is our holiday season. Instead of Christmas and New Year’s, we have Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur.
Later, I realized that this memento of childhood days probably came back to me because, here in California, the school year has just started, and the other day one of my employees took some time off to bring her son to his first day of kindergarten. All went well at first, she related. She introduced her son to the teacher, saw that her little one was happily occupied, left the classroom and began walking down the hall. With a tear in her eye, she noticed the sign posted on the wall: “Quick exits make fewer tears.” That’s when she felt something tugging at her dress. She turned around to find her son asking why she was leaving without him. Reassuring him that she would be back in a few hours and that he would have fun in the meantime, she retraced her steps and returned her little one to the classroom.
It hadn’t occurred to me that the new school year and the new Jewish year both start at about the same time. I probably hadn’t made this association because Rosh Hashannah falls extraordinarily early this year, late September or early October being a much more common setting for this holiday. In both cases we start out hopeful; with new clothes and a positive attitude, we look forward to a fresh start. Just as it was when we started kindergarten, we fear the unknown that lies before us and find it hard to give up the reassuring familiarity of the past even as we step over the threshold of opportunities for discovery and learning. As we move forward through the grades of school, we often are eager to leave our mistakes of the previous year behind. With a blank notebook and a cache of No. 2 pencils, we vow to get it right this time, whether it be in math, writing, getting along with the annoying kid who sits behind us or dealing with the bully on the playground.
Not much has changed over the years. As in kindergarten, some of us have to be dragged out of our comfort zones, kicking and screaming. Others go more willingly, albeit with a turn of the head and a tearful wave goodbye. We resolve to be better stewards of our money and our time, to pay more attention to our children, to be kinder to our neighbors, to be more involved in our communities and to deal more effectively with the bullying influences of life that forever tempt us with frivolity as a viable alternative to self-improvement.
Like the bees sipping nectar from the flowers in the children’s song, we greet the New Year with with vigor and industry, intent on making this time count. And like the butterfly that has outgrown its cocoon, we long to break away from the limitations of our past, shake off the dewdrops from our newfound wings, and fly away.