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The High Holidays

            I made it through the Jewish high holidays. It was touch and go there for a while, because I couldn’t go to the last few choir rehearsals, and because three of the other synagogue school teachers got Covid at the same time, including the Cantor! So I was relying heavily on my KN95 mask to get me through.

            I made sure to wear my sneakers (because there’s a lot of standing at the high holiday services, especially on Yom Kippur), and I practiced the music as much as possible on my own, and I even started to do breathing exercises (there’s an app for that!), to build up my breath capacity after months of not singing much at all.

“I breathe all the time without an app, Mommy.”

            The surprising thing was how much fun it was to sing with the choir again. I’d forgotten that it was more than just work. When, after missing Rosh Hashana with Covid, the Cantor made his triumphant return for Yom Kippur, it was truly joyous to hear him sing again, and to be able to sing along with all of the tunes the choir doesn’t lead, and realize how much of the music that we only hear once a year is actually familiar and comforting and really powerful.

            It was fun to be with a crowd again; to have so many people in one place, at one time, experiencing the same things, hearing the same stories and singing the same songs and laughing at the same jokes, and it was wonderful to see the children of the congregation (many of whom have been my students over the past few years) go up to the bima and take pride in opening the ark, where the Torah scrolls are kept, but even more so at just being seen.

            The high holidays are still a lot of work, don’t get me wrong. And waking up early, and dressing up, and singing and praying and standing and sitting, over and over and over again, was grueling. And the dogs really hated the constant coming and going (mostly the going), especially when we had more than one service to go to in a single day.


            But it was worth it. Beforehand, I was so focused on how hard it would all be, and how much pain I would be in, and how tired I would get, that I forgot how extraordinary it can feel to be surrounded by a community I truly like, and share history with, and can sing with, and even sometimes dance with.

            I’m sure I will forget all of this again by next summer, when it’s time to rehearse with the choir again and build up to the high holiday services again. I’ll probably spend hours, and days, and weeks, dreading the whole thing and resenting the choir rehearsals and worrying about what to wear, but so far, I can still feel the joy, and it’s wonderful. There are so many difficult things in life that really don’t feel worth all of the effort and pain and anxiety; but some things, like this, are totally worth the effort. Thank God!

“Sleep is always worth the effort.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

38 responses »

  1. Such a joyous post, Rachel. I am so happy things worked out better than you had hoped for. A true blessing!

  2. Enjoyed hearing about your religious holidays and celebrations. Must be uplifting to worship with like minded people.

  3. I enjoy your blog, thank you for sharing it. What breed are your dogs? We have a dog which looks very similar.

    Be Well,

    Joe Neely Ann Arbor, Michigan

    PS – I blog at

  4. Sounds like you had a really good time, Rachel, and your dogs are as lovely as ever.

  5. We think largely Havanese. We adopted Lincoln in the spring – his owner/mom died – and no one could find vet records. He is a nice dog who loves my wife and only tolerates me. We had two little white dogs (a Westie and a Shi-Tzu) who lived long happy lives but moved on to the ‘next adventure’ and left us without a dog until we were fortunate enough to find Lincoln.

  6. I just want to say how much I enjoy the comments your dogs make on the blog!

  7. I’m glad the high holidays brought you so much joy.

  8. I’m glad things worked out.

  9. I’m so glad you had such a great time Rachel

  10. You prepared a lot for the high holidays, and the fun, shared experiences, wonder, extraordinariness, and joy you felt are rewards for having done this. High fives, Rachel! 🙂

  11. I’m glad you found joy in fellowship with your friends and traditions.

  12. A girl after my own heart. You love music, your dog and your faith. Those three will guarantee you success.

  13. You sound like you have turned the corner and are getting better from all the trauma you have had. Good!

  14. Wonderful to hear about the joy you experienced during the High Holy days. God is good.

  15. I am so glad you enjoyed these high holidays with the singing. It is wonderful to sing in a choir and share the celebrations.

  16. Cute dog, you both have a really special connection

  17. Dogs definitely don’t like the ‘going’ of things. Mine gets so anxious. But the rest of it sounds joyous.

  18. It is so wonderful to read this you’re in the season! I hope that your puppies stay warm in the cold is upon us here in Kentucky. I do hope that you have a wonderful day!

  19. Although we are in different states and have different religions, I can relate to this very much. Due to health issues, I could not sing at church for 6 months. Yesterday I finally returned. It was a lot of practicing and praying and doing vocal exercises to get my voice back into shape, just like you said. Even the time spent picking the perfect modest outfit and the 8 hours wearing high heels. But it is just as you said, how powerful community is and being with each other and singing to the God whom we worship. It is a blessing to be a part of, though it is exhausting. It’s much easier to just decide not to be a part of it but so worth it once it’s through!


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