First and foremost, let me wish everyone reading this a Shana Tovah and a sweet new year. Now, I want to elaborate on the title of this article by starting from the beginning. Growing up, I feared and loathed Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and all the holidays that required hours in synagogue. I never understood the words of the prayers, always felt guilty for every aspect about myself, and constantly left services unfulfilled and frustrated. Given that I’m a very deep person by nature, something always felt off about the concept of praying in any synagogue or church. To me, being told to pray a certain way or repent for everything always pushed me further from God and religion. However, this year I decided to go where I feel most connected and spiritually nurtured: Nature.
There is something so precious about the outdoors and Mother Earth, something that any house of prayer lacks in my eyes. I could be having an emotional breakdown, but if I sit outside by the ocean, the pain becomes weaker. In comparison, every time I walk into a synagogue or even a church my anxiety becomes stronger and my serenity compromised. And this is not to say anything against my religion or anyone’s at all, but I’m deep by nature and need more than what the conventional approach could never offer. For that reason, I chose to take my dog Malka on a trip to Malibu this Rosh Hashanah and it was the most fulfilling experience.
Living in California, nature and escape are at my fingertips pressed on a steering wheel with half a tank of gas to go. With that being said, Malibu was the perfect destination. For my trip, I brought along a bag of apples, vegan hazelnut spread, fruit, hummus, crackers, and my desire to connect. I took the 101 all the way past Calabasas and drove on a road through one of the most beautiful canyons I had ever seen. Having my four legged daughter beside me peaking her head out the window to taste the wind made me even more content.
As I was driving down and towards the beach, I felt a compulsion to cry. I could not believe how beautiful the view around me was, and I felt somewhat unworthy. It was too perfect for the eye and all I wanted to do was get outside and kiss the ground below me. And then as I got towards the beach, gratitude became my language of connection to God. This was something I never felt in the past years when praying for forgiveness and a fresh start in the Synagogue. It truly hit me that going to Malibu was the right decison.
I spent an hour on the beach with my dog, Malka, sitting on the shore and soaking in the waves. As they crashed over my body, I said a prayer that came straight from my soul. Simultaneously, the water cleansed me of my sins, anger, resentment, jealousy, and all else negative that I keep pent up inside of me everyday. And I knew that even though my rage wouldn’t disappear so quickly, it was the perfect moment to accept that. Even more so embrace the fact that I am imperfect and evolving at my own pace.
After opening my eyes, I got up and grabbed a cracker from my bag and split it into three pieces. On Rosh Hashana, we have a tradition called Tashlich in which we throw bread into the water as a symbol of casting away our sins. With that in mind, each piece represented different types of sins: The ones I was sorry for, the others that I absolutely wasn’t but should be, and lastly for all things I did unintentionally. After throwing the pieces into the water, the ocean grabbed them and brought them into the current. At that point, I felt satisfied and was able to return to my car for the next part of my planned day.
Next, I drove up another canyon and to a dog park with the most beautiful view of Malibu. It was a way for me to catch the sunset, eat my sweets for the year, and let my dog run around and exercise. As Malka ran around and played with the other dogs, I took out the apples and vegan hazelnut spread and ate them together. Another tradition on Rosh Hashana is to dip apples in honey for a sweet new year, but I chose the hazelnut spread because I’m vegan and don’t do honey. I ate my apples, said a prayer for welcoming in the new year, and then grabbed my dog and headed home.
At the end of the day, I went to bed satisfied and happy. This was the first time in a very long one that I found fulfillment on one of the most draining holiday seasons of the year. Although I did have that tiny bit of guilt for not attending services, it wasn’t as strong as my serenity and spiritual peace.
Whenever I am depressed, I immediately go to nature because that’s where I’m calm. There had been countless late nights where I was extremely depressed and very lonely; at that point I would drive to Malibu and the Santa Monica Pier for my healing. Literally, at two in the morning I would be driving through the same canyon to get to the beach with Malka. After the drive, I would walk along the beach with her, say a prayer, and feel healed almost instantly. That is something that I never experienced EVER in synagogue, and for that reason I chose to go with my spirit.
At the end of the day, religion is like a buffet and you should be able to pick and choose what works for you. Maybe its just how I’m wired, but I cannot adhere to a Rabbi or some random zealot of any religion telling me about prayer and how to connect to God. I’ve come to realize that however you see God or any higher power is your right as a human being, and nobody can dictate that for you. For that reason, I knew that going to Malibu on Rosh Hashanah would be the perfect way to connect. I was right, and I am most certainly looking forward to Yom Kippur on the beach.
Once again, Shanah Tovah to everyone who celebrates Rosh Hashana. I wish you your hearts desires to be fulfilled and the sweetest year to come to you. We all deserve it!