Fasting On New Year’s Day (and other ways to honor sacred time)

Beach with my mother, 12/2014

Haya Helena Lau and her firstborn son Naphtali, 1928, Poland.

There’s a large stump of a pine tree in the little garden right outside my mother’s bedroom. They had to cut down the old sick tree when they moved in just over a year ago, for fear of its collapse. This morning she calls me over and points at the stump: two paper white narcissi are blooming right on top of it, along with other bulbs and spring flowers planted by her in the fall, now beginning to stir in anticipation of spring – dazzled by the sunshine. Too early and right on time.

“I wanted him to see this every day when he comes home,” she says, quietly, talking of my father, now three weeks gone.

We finally decided on the words for his tombstone yesterday, including “A coal that was saved from the fire”, a biblical idiom that speaks of destruction and renewal. This is my father’s legacy in elegant brief prose, flowers blooming from a dead tree trunk on a sunny winter morning in Jerusalem, prophecies of summer.

Mourning, like flowers, favors sunny mornings, little smiles of hope, and reasons to rise from the stumps and begin a new season. Again.

This deeply personal moment expands like the rings of the tree stump rippling to root me in the reality beyond this garden. These last days of the year  2014 ebbing away and the waves ahead preparing to crash our shores. “Crash gently please,” I plead in silent prayer as I sit wrapped in my father’s old prayer shawl (now bequeathed to me, along with the blue velvet bag with his initials, a gift from my mother for his 50th birthday.)

The last days of the year are times of reflection. Facebook favors moments of display and that’s pleasing, but the work of harvest, gratitude, reflection and resolve are private and include the moments we don’t often share. It’s most often those moments that carry the seeds for our flourishing further and more.

Mourning status prevents me from parties this New Years Eve, which is just as well. A quiet dinner and a time to take stock of what was feels much more needed. A ritual.

I’ll create my own algorithm of memories thisNew Years Eve, take the time to end a year of so much blessing with my top-ten moments list, perhaps inspired by photos, people, highlights and lowlights to help me ground with gratitude and focus on a fresh restart.

What did I learn this past year? What did I gain, lose, perfect, ponder? A private ritual. An hour or two?  Maybe best done with someone close – a duet of memories, potentially awkward but also a profound exercise in perspective.

It so it happens that on the Jewish calendar the first day of 2015 is the The Tenth of Tevet, a minor fast day reminding Jews of the exact start of the Babylonian siege on Jerusalem, leading to  destruction and exile in the middle of the sixth century BCE.

Memorable yet minor, the Tenth of Tevet survived into the  latter part of the 20th Century when it was reinvented by the Israeli Rabbinate as the Day on which Mourners Kaddish is recited for the Holocaust victims for whom no grave nor actual death date is known.

Beach with my mother, 12/2014

That long list includes my grandmother, Chaya Helena Lau, who perished in Ravensbruck in Germany just before liberation in the spring of ’45. My father always lit a candle and said the kaddish on this day. This year, we all say Kaddish for him, and also for her.

She was born on January 1 1900.

So this year on New Year’s Day I will fast, not feast, and recite the mourner’s prayer  of praise to all that is that I’ve taken on to say once daily for most of 2015.


It feels like gravity. Profound perspective.

Flowers blooming from the stumps of death, reminders of the needed courage to begin again, committed to less fear, more love, more making each and every moment count for its all worth.

Grief and pain and illness and fear and war and loss will arrive among the splendid waves of happiness that will crash our shores this coming year. And by ‘our’ I mean ‘anybody’s’ and it’s our shared responsibility to be there for ourselves and others at the times of need.

What  seeds of hope and courage do I plant in the roots of my fears for what’s ahead, just like my mother planted flower bulbs all around that pine? What must I cultivate in my soul, habits, choices; Who are the people with whom I will hold hands and hearts this coming year to be part of the bigger plan to live in simple service of the greater good?

Please, gently.

Less alone, more consciously together, let’s plant this year a forest of our kindest, wildest dreams.  Where else will we hang our hammocks?

I wish us all a meaningful and joyful new year, full of  feasting and fasting, committed to building strong circles of care.

To life.

-Amichai Lau-Lavie

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(צום בראש השנה האזרחי (ועוד דרכים לקידוש הזמן