Editor’s Note: This guest posting is from Cantor Jennifer Bern-Vogel, Congregation Emanu-El, Redlands, CA.
This past summer, I flew back and forth to Iowa three separate times spending several weeks with my 94-year old mother. Apart from enjoying sunshine, meals and cloud-gazing together, there were numerous trips to the ER from falls and other complications, medical visits and multiple discussions with doctors, assisted living staff and caregivers. After three weeks in rehab, we made the decision to keep my mom in skilled nursing and just recently, have enlisted hospice care to help manage the pain from a wound in her leg that will not heal due to poor vascular circulation. Did I mention that my mom has dementia? We are grateful that she still recognizes Dan and me – is always happy to hear our voices in our daily phone calls and of course, is even happier if we’re right there with her, but with the exception of a couple of other family members, close friends and her sister in London who calls once a week, my beloved mother doesn’t remember much else. My mom was once a bright, witty and articulate conversationalist – translating German articles into English, proofreading a total of twelve languages…now the disease has robbed her of those skills, making it a struggle to sometimes complete a single sentence. How does a person imprisoned in their speech call out for help?
I think we are all imprisoned in some way – we are all wounded, grieving, fearful, lonely, reaching out in some way for our needs to be realized, our prayers to be answered… With Erev Rosh Hashanah commencing October 2, we continue the contemplative journey we began in the month of Elul to the next phase of celebrating the New Year 5777 with joy and gratitude; and Yom Kippur with reflection, forgiveness and hope. We plead with God, Shema Koleinu – hear our voices! Hear our cries! Rabbi Uri of Strelisk wrote:
We pray that God may accept our call for help. But we also pray that God, who knows that which hidden, may hear the silent cries of our souls.
On Yom Kippur, we sing and recite the powerful prayer, Unetaneh Tokef, reflecting on the coming year: ‘Who shall live and who shall die?’ We so desperately want to hold on to life. The High Holy Days allow us to release our emotions, confront our mortality and vulnerability. At Sukkot we are reminded of the fragility of life when we read Kohelet and dwell in our lovely but sparse sukkah. With the Gates of Heaven still open, may we find comfort in Rabbi Milton Steinberg’s words: “Only with God can we ease the intolerable tension of our existence. For only when God [He] is given, can we hold life at once infinitely precious and yet as a thing lightly to be surrendered. Only because of God [Him] is it possible for us to clasp the world, but with relaxed hands; to embrace it, but with open arms.”
May we each be sealed in the Book of Life with Blessings and Peace,
Cantor Jennifer Bern-Vogel