Bring out the Tailgate Party: It's Rosh Chodesh
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I've always wanted to tailgate. I have never been to a Patriot's game and I am a vegetarian, but I have always relished the thought of setting up a barbecue in a parking lot with beer and steaks and friends and crisp air and laughter and music booming and shared joy and anticipation at the prospect of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick leading the Pats to another victory seems like it is the essence of a holiday in my imagination. Tailgating seems to me to be an event full of traditions that are followed faithfully by a community of like-minded people, complete with food, beverage, traditions, songs and a healthy respect and love for "the team." Tailgating is not quite a holiday but it is not an ordinary occurrence either. It is a sort of half holiday that occurs in New England during the fall and into early winter each year now for the past nineteen years.
How is holiday defined? Merriam Webster defines it as "a day marked by a general suspension of work in commemoration of an event," a day marked by a general suspension of work in commemoration of an event.
In Judaism we have all sorts of holidays. Some are holidays mandated by the Torah and some are mandated by the rabbis of the Talmud. They provide form and contour, spice and excitement to the Jewish year. They range from the most contemplative to agricultural to commemorative to celebratory. During many of these there is a cessation of work, liturgical additions and special torah readings. We can cover these holidays at another point, but today let's talk about a half holiday, Rosh Chodesh. Rosh Chodesh comes twelve (and every few years thirteen) times a year and marks the beginning of the new month. In ancient times people would stand watch on hilltops to watch for the beginnings of the new moon which marked the beginning of the new month and then send signals from hill to hill to commence the new month. Today Rosh Chodesh is still celebrated and is considered a minor or a half holiday. We announce it in synagogue the Shabbat before it occurs and then mark it on the day by adding in the festive Hallel, a torah reading and a musaf service.
What makes a holiday a holiday and even more confusing, what makes a half holiday a holiday? If the definition holds, holidays take us away from work and everyday cares in order to give us space and worry free time to participate in prayer and rituals. A holiday enables us to leave our work community and join with a community of faith to worship. If we are able to leave behind our worries about life in general, the potential is there to open up our minds to thoughts that are on a different level, maybe a higher level? If we take the prayer and faith community away then it leaves us with a day which provides us with unstructured time to do as we wish, which can include commemorating, but also will likely include eating, drinking and myriad of leisure activities, with families and friends or on our own.
A half holiday or a minor holiday, such as Rosh Chodesh, is much more confusing to celebrate because its parameters are much more vague. We know that Jews aren't allowed to fast on Rosh Chodesh and women can celebrate it as a semi-holiday because they did not contribute gold toward the fashioning of the golden calf centuries ago. Rosh Chodesh gets us outdoors looking and blessing the moon. To my knowledge there are no special customs or foods or foods associated with this monthly half-holiday.
I like to think of something like tailgating, an informal almost religious type of ritual, as an organic way of making a semi-holiday out of something that is important to us. Of course Rosh Chodesh is in a different league (Not AFC vs NFC!), but holding the status of a half holiday allows us to envision ways where we can associate meaning with a set period of time. Certainly, without the strict rules that make a holiday a holy-day, a door is opened to creating traditions to enhance the meaning of the day. Rosh Chodesh women's groups have used this concept of the moon and Rosh Chodesh being a women's holiday, to gather and learn together, create and to celebrate. Celebrations of Rosh Chodesh have exploded over the past twenty years as women use this time to create and celebrate.
Over the years I have been in a Rosh Chodesh group composed of very special women. We have used the time to write, discuss our families, read books together, prepare and eat special foods, write poetry, watch films, dance, sing and more than anything, share our stories. We have laughed at ourselves and cried for each other. It's no tailgate party, but Rosh Chodesh has been our vehicle to take time and elevate it to a different level, a place where our hearts and minds fill the space. I've never been to a tailgate party, but I have been to a Rosh Chodesh service and a Rosh Chodesh group. It's not a dream, it's a reality and it has enriched me for years now. The conversations that we have had around the table have enriched each of us in ways that are substantively different than a tailgate party. The connections forged between the women who have attended are strong and will last for years to come.
Come the autumn I will continue to dream about a tailgate party that I'll probably never attend, but in the real world I will continue to explore issues with special group of women friends who have helped to make that half holiday one of meaning and has given all of us everlasting memories.
Dedicated, with love, to my Rosh Chodesh group and also to my cousin Leila, who has actually been to a real tailgating event.