and we’ve arrived at the month of Elul.
Twenty-nine days in which to think about where we’ve been this past year, the wrong turns we've taken,
and recalibrate our personal GPS so it gives us the best route to follow in our journey during the New Year.
My Poppa had a unique global positioning system.
Read all about it below.
And K'tiva VaHatima Tova.
You should be written and sealed in the Book of Life
for a good year.
Just as a robin heralds the coming of spring, Poppa’s tallis – newly washed and flapping
on the clothesline – announced the coming of Rosh Hashanah.
Standing in the yard, Momma would give the tallis a final once-over to make sure she’d washed out each stain accumulated during the past year. Satisfied with the job she’d say, “Now. If only getting the shmutz out of our lives was this easy.”
The run-up to the Jewish New Year offers us a chance to do significant spiritual housecleaning. We’re told to examine our souls, take stock of our deeds and review the way we’ve lived our lives in the past year. If we’re willing to take a hard look at our dirty laundry and toss it out, we’re then given a clean start and the opportunity to head in the right direction.
And so, spurred on by good intentions (or, it could be argued, by fear that doom is nigh) we spend the weeks before the New Year’s arrival trying to settle past wrongs, repair family feuds, bury hatchets. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kipper we rush to our synagogues and Temples, beat our breasts, repent and ask forgiveness. We promise to practice teshuvah -- to return to the right path -- in hopes we will be inscribed in the Book of Life for another year.
Yet, when we’re lucky enough to be granted more time, it's ironic how much of this precious gift we waste by procrastinating. We delay our teshuvah until later. Our resolutions gather dust. We put off saying I’m sorry or I love you or thank you. And often, by the time we do get around to saying those things, it’s too late.
My Poppa understood the perils of procrastination. Like the Hebrews who made haste out of Egypt, Poppa fled the shtetl in a shot. This ability to turn on a dime served him often and well, but never better than on a long-ago car trip.
Early one summer morning, Poppa, Mamma, my little brother, Michael, and I, piled into our white Pontiac and headed out of Omaha towards a family reunion in Minneapolis. Poppa was at the wheel, Momma sat beside him, and Michael and I were in the back with a cooler of deviled eggs, a bundle of Batman comics and The Good Earth, my book of choice at the time. As we pulled out of our garage it began to rain, and the windshield wiper’s rhythmic swish swoosh, swish swoosh, matched the measured tempo of Poppa’s driving as he maneuvered the neighborhood streets and steered the Pontiac through downtown, over the Missouri River bridge and onto the Interstate.
Swish swoosh, swish swoosh. Cows, silos, rows of corn slipped by, the miles and hours, too. Hypnotized in my corner, I crawled deeper and deeper into The Good Earth where Wang Lung and Olan, side by side, now plowed midwestern fields, their red paper-dressed gods recognizable in every Iowa scarecrow. Swish swoosh, swish swoosh. The road continued past barns (no, they were Buddhist temples) and chicken coops where hens laid deviled eggs. We drove for pages through famine, locust and the Chinese Revolution until Michael, yawning, bored with Batman, squinted out the rain-streaked window and asked, "Does everybody go through Missouri on their way from Omaha to Minneapolis?"
Momma, in a panic, screamed, "Oi, Gottenyu. We’re going the wrong way! We must have taken a wrong turn in Des Moines. So, Alex, when we come to the next exit you’ll get off and turn around."
But that form of teshuvah wasn’t Poppa’s style. Instead -- right there on the Interstate -- Poppa shifted gears, lurched over the median and headed back in the right direction.
Into our wide-eyed silence, Poppa explained his actions, calmly and with logic.
"Where is it written that you have to wait for an exit to turn around? The exit, after all, could be very far away. It could take a very long time to get there. And furthermore, how would you feel if -- when you finally did arrive at the exit -- it was closed."
originally published in Joseph's Bones: a Collection of Stories
written and illustrated by Ozzie Nogg copyright 2004