The first parsha poem I want to share with you, commemorates Rosh Hashanah. It’s called What Jessica Hears and the idea for this poem came to me as I listened to blowing of the shofar at Rosh Hashanah services about 20 years ago. As the congregation sang Hayom harat olam (Today the world is born), the opening line of the poem popped into my head: My daughter was born on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. It sounded so right to me, I didn’t know where the poem was going to end up, only that I had to remember that line; without it, there could be no poem. Given that I could not write the line down and my memory is terrible, the only way to ensure that I’d not lose the line was to keep repeating it to myself for the remaining 36 hours of the holiday. So, like a mantra, I repeated the line in my head and out loud over and over until the moment the holiday ended and I could finally write it. You can imagine what a pleasure it must have been to be around me during those 36 hours. It usually takes me days, months or, even, years to get a poem exactly right. But this poem practically spilled out of me and what you see below is, more or less, what I wrote that night in about an hour.
What Jessica Hears
My daughter was born on the
first day of Rosh Hashanah.
And on that day, instead of hearing
the 100 blasts of the shofar in
my synagogue, I listened to
Jessica’s cries—at least 100 of them—
with the other members of her
first congregation: a minyan of doctors,
nurses and orderlies; her mother leading
the service in an elegant hospital gown.
It is taught that the notes of
the shofar—the single, uninterrupted t’kiah,
the wavering calls of shvarim, and
the staccato sobs of t’ruah—describe
the condition of the soul during a lifetime.
We are born clear and straight, succumb to
to crookedness as adults, and grieve for our mortality
in old age. But the final blast of the shofar,
the breathtaking t’kiah g’dolah—an extended t’kiah,
powerful and pure—reminds us that God
receives the penitent, who seeks to return
to a state of innocence.
Walking to synagogue on Rosh Hashanah
when Jessica was 10, she told me that
the shofar sounds like a starving child.
Where she got this, I do not know,
my daughter, who has never gone to bed
hungry. But that day, I prayed for all the
world’s starving children. And for Jessie,
her soul still t’kiahlike.
And, as the sound of the shofar filled the
room, I could not stop thinking of her.
Holding back tears, I listened, so as not
to miss a single note. I listened, trying to
remember what it is like to be 10. I listened,
for the sound that I used to know, but
have not heard for a very long time:
the sweet, uncomplicated voice of God.