High Holy Days Journey with Amichai Lau-Lavie: 40 ways in 40 days to find your focus




All day long the crying lingers, the tears held back. Why cry? Tired, raw, pleased, overwhelmed necessarily low after yesterday’s incredible high. On days like this, days after – but also days in between – crying helps me to ground, to balance the overflow of emotions, to release, tear by tear, the abundance of feelings. This second day of rosh hashanna I spend not praying with my community but quietly and alone, preparing for tonight’s feast, I wash the grapes, and I’m grateful for the grapes, and the feast, and all the beauty of these past few days, and feel a lump in my throat and I almost cry but don’t.  And I’m a bit disappointed because I wanted to cry – almost seduced there, but stalled.

Why cry? When I am praying, as I did yesterday, with hundreds of people, some familiar, many not, and when I pray alone – crying is my marker of presence, of ‘real’ prayer.

I used to worry about crying in public but that became impossible, unnecessary. I cry as I concentrate; lead these prayers, moved by our music, the energy of intention in the room, the intensity of this ceremonial theater of the soul. My crying, I’m told, gives others permission to cry to, to release, to let the tears do what they do so well. There is great intimacy at these times, when our private and public selves, and sometimes our tears, are blurred.


Many years ago, when I first discovered opera I used to play the last scene of La Boehme (on my walkman, cassettes) over and over again. Mimi’s death would make me cry every time. It became addictive.

Later it was the Smiths.

Now it’s, sometimes, the poetry of atonement. The shiny red pomegranates on the tables, the freshly washed bowl of purple grapes, the challah that little Alice baked, the clean white tablecloth, the long white candles waiting to be lit, and illuminated and dripping like tears into the first Sabbath of the year. Abundance of gratitude.


‘You need a good cry every once in a while’ my aunt used to say.  I’m just going to let it happen.


Shabbat Tova