Monday, September 29, 2014

Pain in the Neck

How is the new year going so far? How was your Rosh Hashanah? And – the question on everybody’s lips this time of year – what time did you get out of shul? Do you belong to the 5 pm crowd? Or only the 3:30 community? As for myself, I was in a shul that finished at 1:30. Very humane. I have a suspicion that if you haven’t been able to “get through” by 1:30, those extra three hours probably won’t help much.

However, the real issue this year was that I almost didn’t get there.

Like every other self-respecting female, I spent the entire Erev Yom Tov baking, cooking, and preparing – and enjoying it. I am also incredibly fortunate in that throughout the day, there were people who called to wish me a good year. So – what does one do? One clamps the phone between the ear and the shoulder, and keeps stirring the tzimmes. This technique used to work just fine in the past – as long as one is young and limber one gets away with it, but suddenly one day the body protests, and says “enough of this abuse”, and before one knows one is sitting at the Yom Tov table, barely able to dip the sheep’s head in the honey for sheer pain. In my case the neck pain radiated into the whole shoulder and down into the rib cage, with the result that I could not breathe more than the tiniest gasps for air – or suffer the torture of what felt like a knife stabbing me. Needless to say, the whole first night of the new year was nightmarish; hardly any sleep, no moving, no breathing, and the worry of "what if this is a sign of what the year has in store for me, G-d forbid!?" And needless to say, when I slowly and painfully clambered out of bed in the morning I was not in a shul-going mood.

Some time in the late spring I had had a similar pain episode, and back then, when I had braved the agony and attended the Shabbos seudah to which we had been invited, I almost fainted from the pain, and had to be the object of much unsought attention. What if something similar would occur again? What if I fainted in shul? How was I going to bear the hard benches, all that standing, not to mention being able to daven with a modicum of kavanah, holy intention? And how was I even going to get dressed? 

I so wished that my husband might suddenly, unexpectedly, show up at the door (because his personal shul schedule is unpredictable in the extreme – his advanced condition of ADHD prompts him to run around from shacharis in the Vasikin minyan, to Torah reading in another place – except, if they are only up to “Sim Sholom” he’ll keep running, in order to find a shul where they have gotten to “Vay’hi binso’ah ha’aron” – then he might want to catch the rabbi’s drosha in a third shul, mussaf in a yeshivah, perhaps, and kaddish by the Chassidim. Five or six shuls in one day is perfectly “normal” for him, sometimes with one or two home visits sprinkled in, so he really might have popped in) to say something manly and protective to me along the lines of “you just get back into bed, and I’ll find someone to blow the shofar for you later”. But for once in a blue moon, he was just staying put in some shul and did not materialize when I needed him. 

So I was standing there, propped up against the bed, holding my bra in one hand and wondering what to do with it, when suddenly Hashem (because I assume it was He), put a thought into my head…

In my line of work I deal with Holocaust Survivors. Many of them have told me their stories, and additionally, throughout my life I have read numerous memoirs and testimonials of the devastation that they lived through. “Would they have let themselves be stopped by a bit of debilitating pain?” I suddenly asked myself. “Would an inability to breathe have held them back?” A nechtigen tog!, I had to answer myself in that resounding Yiddish circumlocution for the concept of “never!” Running, hobbling, or crawling, they would have propelled themselves towards the beckoning voice of the shofar if there had only been the slightest chance of hearing it; crippled by pain, unable to breathe, fainting and starving, they would have overcome any obstacle for the privilege of praying from a Machzor for a few moments – and tragically, this holds true for so many other thousands of Jews as well throughout our glorious and painful history.

Me – not go to shul on Rosh Hashanah? Are you kidding me?

Buoyed by this insight, and shamed by my own weakness, I betook myself to the nearest synagogue. And I didn’t faint. Was it the best shul experience I have ever had? Maybe not. But whatever I may have achieved there, and the very fact that I went, is entirely the z’chus of "my" Holocaust Survivors – and the only reason at all that I have chronicled my aches and pains here is to give tribute to those whose lives are a daily inspiration to me!

May we all be sealed for a healthy, pain free year!
Shalom Uv'racha!

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