IT RACED BY with tire-screeching fury, resulting in whiplash and motion sickness. My clients shared tales of renting cabins next to Lake Como in Italy and sabbath meals in Switzerland. One friend fulfilled a lifelong dream of visiting Alaska, and another went on a powerful heritage tour of Poland.
The highlights of my summer? One night I ate fish and chips at a street fair, I drove 90 minutes to Ikea and bought two coffee mugs and a shower mat with an unpronounceable Nordic name and in August I was felled by sunstroke on the Ashkelon beach.
Perhaps those empty summer days were designed for reflection before the most important, awe-filled period on the Jewish calendar. After all, there are no holy-days which require fancy meals, specific obligations or yom tov finery. We received the Torah in the month of Sivan (mid-May this year), and those of us who are Torah observant, believe that there are no “coincidences” but, rather, a divine plan.
Suddenly I considered the abandon that typically accompanies vacation season. The near-nudity of people walking from their cars to the shore and into local kiosks is downright fascinating. Men and women of all ages who would never accept a UPS delivery in their birthday-suit casually stroll about the boardwalk as though the woodenslats beneath their feet confer a special status to beach-goers. Naked isn’t naked if there are waves and gulls nearby.Would one wear the same band-aid sized Speedo or Stella McCartney bikini at the local supermarket to stock up on shampoo? And while there are deeper sensitivities about what constitutes nudity within the religious Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities, the accepted rules of modest dress are seemingly non-existent in primarily secular Israel.
But is modesty only about how much skin we show? As I prepare to pray alongside my co-religionists and ask for mercy, sustenance, robust health and some respect from recalcitrant children, it behooves me to ask myself about how much uneaten food was discarded this past year. While tossing chicken wings and lamb chops on the grill during summer picnic season, the staccato laughter of revelers, some of whom dance to the beat of the tarbuka and sip steaming cups of botz, I ask myself if letting one’s hair down reflects abandoned principles. As I prepare to face G-d it dawns on me that I had rarely considered where my food comes from. Do I cook only what is needed for nourishment, or have I been callous with flesh that comes from living creatures? And what about the mounds of non-biodegradable plastic goods that, having served their purpose, are now relegated to landfills for generations to come?
From the cellphone for every child to the plethora of entertainment options, to the expected SUV, to disposable clothing, dishware and relationships, the more, more and a little more of a people who were once known for their modesty and being the undisputed Light-Unto-the-Nations, something has morphed into an ugliness that the summer from which we are emerging can only magnify.
Rosh Hashanah falls in early September, heralding the month of Tishrei. We are granted a staggering opportunity to usher in a more meaningful year, deepen our relationships and create real, healthy change for ourselves and those we care about. Modesty is not only skin deep. Just as we want G-d to show mercy to us, we are created in His image and can begin by showing mercy to one another and expressing gratitude for all we’ve been fortunate enough to acquire – both physical and spiritual – in this fragile sojourn called life.
Shanah tovah u’chatimah tovah!
New York native Andrea Simantov has lived in Jerusalem since 1995. She is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine.