Happy New Year
This weekend is the Jewish New Year. Which makes a bit more sense placementwise than the secular calendar’s new year marker. I mean, dead of winter? As the start of a year? How do you think about rebirth when there is snow on the ground? Rosh Hashanah isn’t that much better–fall doesn’t have renewal characteristics like spring, but at least you have harvesting, gathering, contemplating. As I said, just a bit of sense.
There are three traditions (perhaps old wives’ tales) that infertile women do during this time. Two happen on the second day of Rosh Hashanah this year, which would be this Sunday, the 24th. The first ceremony is called Tashlich and it entails going to a moving body of water (river, stream, lake, ocean) and “casting away” all of the crap you’ve experienced this past year. The failed cycles. The injections. The fights with your spouse over infertility choices. The miscarriages. The exams and procedures and blood work and sonograms. All of it. Figuratively cast it away. Okay, so you’re technically supposed to cast away your sins. But let’s just pretend that my sins are much more miniscule in importance than all of the bad feelings tied to infertility. I used to write out a long list of all the things I wanted to close off and forget (forget the emotions and pain–not forget the lesson learned) from the past year. And then I would rip it up and throw the pieces in the water because the point is to not hold on to these things and take them with you into the next year.
That night (the second tradition), people eat a pomegranate. It’s part of this larger concept called first fruits, but infertile women have adopted it as a way to ensure good fertility in the coming year. We not only ate the pomegranate ourselves, but shared it with my parents who had already gone through infertility. We just thought that the more people on our side, the better. So, we had at least four people pushing for good fertility for us each year. So, I would recommend getting together with friend to eat the pomegranate. Or your lady-when-waiting or sibling or parents. And just…watch out for stains. And thinking about the future.
The final tradition happens a few weeks later after the holiday of Succot. Succot is a harvest holiday and the oversimplified description of this holiday is that it’s a time when Jews celebrate the fall harvest by building these temporary shelters (called a sukkah) and spending time as a community within them. Some people sleep in them for the 8 days of the holiday. Others just hold meals in them. In each sukkah is a set of braided leaves (called a lulav) and a small, lemon-like fruit (called an etrog). You shake the lulav and etrog in several directions and recite this prayer when you enter the sukkah. Damn, when you have to explain your own holiday, it sounds so much weirder than when you’re just celebrating it.
When Succot is over (this year on October 15th), the etrog is given to a couple who is trying to conceive and the woman bites the stem (called the pitom) off the top. And it’s supposed to bring her a pregnancy within the year. We were given the etrog two years running. I still have the little, shriveled etrogs and the wooden stems inside a cup in my living room. So how do you get the etrog? I don’t know if you’re not Jewish. I mean, you could buy one, but I’ve always assumed that it was supposed to have been used during the holiday to have it infused with extra spiritual powers. You could call any synagogue in America and explain your situation and ask them for their etrog when the holiday is over. It saves them the uncomfortable task of trying to figure out the infertile couple in their congregation and offer it to them.
And all these things…do they help? Who knows. I think tashlich is a wonderful tradition for everyone. To just throw away all the bad feelings that are weighing you down. The rest of it? How could it hurt?