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Satire - A survivor’s guide to Rosh Hashanah

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By the time you read this, the end will be upon us. The time has finally come. We all knew that the day would arrive, much as many of us opted to feign ignorance or hoped against all odds that it wouldn’t.
by JORDAN MOSHE | Sep 06, 2018

We’ve all seen the signs around us, but chose to ignore them. The new calendars, the endless variety of honey bottles, the alarming recurrence of bee images wherever you look – we have no choice but to confront them as the day comes. Rosh Hashanah is indeed upon us, and I, for one, am unreservedly terrified.

Not for the typical reasons, I must admit. True, the Jewish New Year marks the day on which we stand in judgement before the almighty, which alone is cause for alarm. But the thought of being confined to a small (often plastic) chair, hemmed in by people I may have seen once at a brocha (if at all), savouring occasional gusts of fresh air from a window kilometres away, and clutching a machzor as blue as I feel, turns this alarm into sheer terror.

Let’s be brutally honest with ourselves: The high holy days are not for the faint of heart. Yes, the faint of heart can be rather fun to watch, nodding off during the drosha, fanning themselves with shul newsletters (never in short supply at this time of year), and shooting furtive glances at the clock every few seconds.

But when you are one of them, Rosh Hashanah services are about as thrilling as sitting on a car roof in your pyjamas after midnight in a parking lot with a rabid dog circling you. Believe me, I’ve been there, and if you substitute the pyjamas with an ill-fitting suit, the car with the aforementioned plastic chair, the parking lot with a crowded shul and the dog with an overzealous congregant, you can see why the two situations are comparable.

In an effort to spare myself as much suffering as possible, I’ve chosen to create something of a survival guide for when I find myself at the height of torment. Short enough to be slipped into a trouser pocket, these tips can be whipped out at any point during the service, and may well prove to be my saving grace. Feel free to put them to use:

•     Make the most of trips to the bathroom. This is one of the rare opportunities available to slip out of shul and enjoy a change of scenery. Take a tour of the stalls, and admire things you may have overlooked before. Admire the ingenuity of bathroom cupboard hinges. A marvel, aren’t they?

•     Exercise at regular intervals. Remember to keep the blood pumping. Chest-klapping is the bare minimum, so perhaps drop your machzor every fifteen minutes and do a few sit ups while bending down to pick it up and exercising your lips in kissing it. No one will notice. If you feel self-conscious, a lap around the shul may feel more natural. Make a few stops at various congregants on the circuit.

•     Get to know the people around you. Look for any indications that they may be willing to engage, including heavy perspiration, bloodshot eyes, repeated counting of pages, or copious bouts of weeping. Invite them to join you on your bathroom tours, or to participate in your exercise routines by keeping count of your sit-ups and cheering you on or walking a relay with you.

•     Make the most of your page numbers. Everyone is always counting how many pages are left. It’s always so disappointing, yet we always do it, so use the numbers more constructively. Put your high-school algebra skills to use by stringing complex equations together or play Sudoku with them. Exchange mathematical challenges with your neighbours.

•     Use your machzor creatively. When the davening becomes a bit much, use the text in a novel way. Why not choose a word on the page and attempt to act it out, playing a game of charades with an unsuspecting congregant in an opposite row? There are plenty words to choose from, so whether you want to act out the annulment of vows, the sacrificing of Yitzhak, or simple forgiveness, a fun time is guaranteed.

•     Enjoy a revitalising snack. If all else fails, eat something. Remember, it needs to be discreet and contextually appropriate. Avoid pulling out roast beef, salmon, or tzimmes – these attract too much attention, and will distract others. Nothing is more appropriate than an apple and honey, so feel free to produce both of these at any point. As you are in shul, it’s best to use a plate, cutlery, and napkin as well. This meal is best complemented with a bottle of Moscato, enhancing the overall sweetness, and ensuring that the year ahead is equally sweet. It is customary to invite the rabbi to partake, so remember to do so.

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