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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Alone with the dishes (reprised)

[I wrote this post back in 2004 to describe the mental preparation that goes into this period between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur.  I haven't been able to improve upon it. yet.]

One gets to do a fair amount of thinking late at night… alone with the dishes.  Zahava does her fair share of the dishes, but for the big jobs… particularly after dinner parties, large Shabbat/holiday meals, etc… I’m the guy left surveying the wreckage and not knowing exactly where to begin.

So it is (for me) with the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. 

For me, they are like the aftermath of an enormous, wild dinner party… one where invitations were extended to far more people than the house could comfortably accommodate…. the kind of rollicking soirée that is talked about and savored for months.

But such a party comes with a price to pay.

Rosh Hashanah (for me) is roughly analogous to standing [aghast] in the doorway between the kitchen and the dining room surveying the damage.

What was I thinking?

Every horizontal surface is stacked high with dirty glasses and dishes. 

Half-empty bottles of merlot, syrah and chardonnay stand abandoned beside empty bottles of bourbon and scotch. 

The sinks overflow with greasy dishes, and the dessert service (dishes, tea cups and saucers) seem evenly distributed between the dinning room table and the various kitchen counters.

Linen napkins sit balled on (and under) chairs, and glasses of every description seem to wink at me from wherever the wandering conversationalists abandoned them.

On Rosh Hashanah I stand slumped in that imaginary doorway trying to make the insurmountable seem… well, surmountable. Trying to place the soiled contents of my slovenly year into some kind of framework where things can be addressed in an orderly fashion.

Anyone who has been left to clean up after a big dinner party understands the daunting nature of the task. At first glance it seems the house will never clean again.

But then I pick up that first wine glass (with the half-moon of lipstick on the rim) and place it in such a way as to demonstrate to the long departed guests and sleeping house that this spot on the sideboard is where the crystal will be gathered. 

And so Rosh Hashanah begins (for me)… nothing getting washed just yet… just making the insurmountable seem surmountable.

Several circuits of the house bring more wine, whiskey, and water glasses than I ever knew we owned, to join the first there on the counter.

Then, emptying one of the sinks of its precariously balanced contents, I draw a basin of steaming hot soapy water.

As the sink fills I designate other places for dishes and cups and saucers… each to each… all according to size. Warming to the familiar task, I take comfort in the muffled sound of the water under its foamy cloak… almost like a prayer.

And so Rosh Hashanah continues (for me).  Nothing getting washed just yet… just making the insurmountable seem surmountable.

Next the sterling flatware and serving pieces are gathered into a soup pot full of soapy water, and the linen napkins are bundled with the tablecloth into the hamper in the laundry room.

With the leftovers put safely into the refrigerator and the trash bundled to the bin, the place is starting to look more sane… not one iota cleaner, mind you... but the illusion of order has begun to emerge.

Now pots and pans of every shape and size are filled with soapy water and placed on the stove to soak. Measuring cups and carving knives are placed beside legions of serving platters. Spices are returned to their places and canisters of flour and sugar are placed back on their shelves… each gestures creating a bit of space… and the comforting suggestion of emerging order.

And so Rosh Hashanah ends (for me)… nothing having been washed just yet… but the insurmountable seems… surmountable.

I stand again in the spiritual doorway between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur… balanced on the threshold between what I have created during the year…and what I have consumed. I haven’t yet washed a thing, although some of the bigger problems have been identified and have been placed in to soak. The glasses all sit with their fellows and the dishes are stacked according to size. Everything still bears the smudges and smears of too much fun… too much indulgence.

But now as I look around, the task seems manageable… surmountable. 

As I stand listening to the soft ahhhhhhhhhh of the soap bubbles as they settle in the sink, I am ready for Yom Kippur. I know what has to be washed… and I know (hope) that after the necessary amount of work I will find myself at the end of Yom Kippur’s fast with the dish towel in my hands, surveying the sparkling china… the lovingly polished sterling… the immaculate crystal… each in its place, and the house looking (and feeling) ready for a fresh beginning.

May we all be inscribed and sealed for a good year.

Posted by David Bogner on October 8, 2008 | Permalink


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Surely bringing so much pleasure to lots of readers can be classed as one of the TARYAG mizvoth?!

Thanks for last years blogs. I do not seems to read daily/regularly any other blogs. But I follow yours since before the war in 2006 and enjoy it most of the time.
G'mar tov to you and your family. yaffa

Posted by: yaffa glass | Oct 8, 2008 11:47:46 AM

Now *that's* language I can understand!!
Thanks and Gmar Tov.

Posted by: G6 | Oct 8, 2008 1:11:01 PM

Happy, healthy year. Only good.Only the best.
May you be inscribed in the book of many clean, well stacked dishes.

Posted by: Larry | Oct 8, 2008 3:59:23 PM

This post, more than anything I've read,has prepared me for the soul work of the next 24 hours. G'mar tov and thanks.

Posted by: Nina | Oct 8, 2008 4:13:34 PM

Gmar Tov - inspiring words. thank you.

Posted by: Hadassah | Oct 8, 2008 4:18:05 PM

Thanks, I needed that.

Gmar tov and an easy and meaningful fast to the whole family.

Posted by: Chedva | Oct 8, 2008 4:23:52 PM

Gmar Tov.

Posted by: Jack | Oct 8, 2008 6:47:16 PM

G'mar chatima tovah to you and your family, David...may you have an easy (but meaningful) fast, followed by a sweet year with all the best life has to offer.

Posted by: Elisson | Oct 8, 2008 7:01:34 PM

What a wonderful post! May the next year bring showers of blessings and joy for your family.

On a very basic note - you should invite lots of Kiwis to your next Rosh Hashanah dinner, they ALWAYS help with the clearing up!

Posted by: Noa | Oct 8, 2008 7:48:54 PM

well a belated happy new year

Posted by: lars | Oct 9, 2008 11:56:07 AM

Beautifully said. Sorry I didn't see this post before Yom Kippur, but hope I will remember it next year. Gmar Tov to you, Zahava & the kids.

Posted by: Sara K | Oct 10, 2008 5:15:21 AM

Lovely post
Do you still use "needs washing dishes," or have you gone "disposable?" Filling plastic bags with more plastic and reinforced paper, just isn't the same, is it?

Posted by: Batya | Oct 10, 2008 6:05:35 AM

hmm, I can't decide if i'd rather be invited to a wild dinner party or a cosy diner dinner...but i did think of your metaphor often during shul today (but of course, that led to the dinner party/diner dinner conundrum, which made me think about grilled cheese...)

i hope it was an easy meaningful fast for you and yours, and that all the spiritual dishes got done by ne'ilah.

Posted by: Debbie | Oct 10, 2008 8:24:21 AM

Shana Tova - a lovely way of putting it (though the concept of half-empty bottles of wine doesn't compute - I always see the bottle as totally empty to the dregs....)

Posted by: Gilly | Oct 10, 2008 5:00:00 PM

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