Rosh Hashanah is once again upon us. It’s a time of rebirth, a chance to set goals for a new year. In 1993, or rather, in 5754, my goals were singular and focused: I am going to have my first kiss this year, I recited to myself again and again, like a mantra. I am going to have my first kiss this year.
It wasn’t so much a goal as the drive to fulfill what I was sure was a prophecy. You see, I knew I would have my first kiss that year. I knew it, because the week before the holiday, I’d asked the almighty deity who ruled the sacred ground above my backyard basketball court, “Will I have my first kiss this year?” right before shooting the ball from the three-point line and watching it swish straight through the net.
‘On that first day of the holiday that year, my luck was as crappy as the weather outside’
Still, just to be on the safe side, I made an agreement with my best friend Aaron: Should a game of Truth or Dare spontaneously erupt during the High Holiday services – and we would do our utmost to execute such a, er, spontaneous eruption – he was to dare Michelle Goldman, the most beautiful girl in all of Hebrew school, to press her lips to mine. Preferably, with tongue.
In Conservative Judaism, Rosh Hashanah is two days long. You pray all morning, both mornings, without a break. At the shul I attended as a kid, children who haven’t yet had a bar or bat mitzvah are allowed to leave the sanctuary when the rabbi begins his lengthy and monotonous sermon. It’s actually quite a scene: The adults watch jealously as the liberated shriek with glee, running from the cavernous hall amidst shouts of “Hallelujah!” and “Thank God!” It is truly a massive, joy-filled Exodus.
On that first day of the holiday that year, my luck was as crappy as the weather outside; Aaron and I asked the girls in our age group if they wanted to play some “teenage games” and they said no, they would rather play tic tac toe or Old Maid.
“Old Maid?!” I cried. “Of course you want to play Old Maid, cause that’s what you are – a bunch of old, stinky maids!” I couldn’t understand why they didn’t want to participate in our adult entertainment until Aaron explained to me, with all the wisdom of a 12-year-old boy, that women, unlike men, sometimes had random mood swings. They were probably all on their periods, he said, in which case, there was nothing we could do to change their minds.
‘Delirious in anticipation, I leaned in, mere inches from crossing the threshold from boyhood into manhood’
But the next day, all of the periods had apparently passed over. As the rabbi began his sermon, a group of us sixth graders ran down the halls and up some stairs to set up camp in the coat check room. There, we were hidden by long, draping coats made of exotic fur or thick wool.
Once we were safely concealed, Aaron pulled out an empty bottle of Manischevitz – which isn’t so much wine as really bad grape juice. And so, with a simple spin, the game began. What transpired was a combination of Spin the Bottle and Truth or Dare, only with very little “truth” involved. Basically, we played that you spun the bottle until it pointed at someone, and the spinner got to dare whomever it pointed at to kiss someone in the circle.
Aaron kissed Lauren, Lauren kissed Ezra, Ezra kissed Sarah, Sarah kissed Isaac, Isaac kissed Benjamin, Benjamin blushed. Finally, just as the fates had promised, Aaron flicked the bottle and it danced its dizzy dance until landing squarely on Michelle Goldman.
“I dare you to kiss Josh,” Aaron said. At last, the prophecy was to be fulfilled. In anticipation, my palms began pouring sweat. Michelle and I slid towards each other at the centre of the circle. As we leaned in, oh so close, I could smell her daisy-scented conditioner and spot a bead of sweat forming at the tip of her brow. Delirious in anticipation, I leaned in, mere inches from crossing the threshold from boyhood into manhood, when, suddenly, THE LIGHTS CAME ON.
A 74-year-old man barged in, screaming, “What the hell is this? I come for my coat and I see nothing but hanky panky! Why aren’t you kids praying?” While the rest of us were stunned into silence, Aaron had the courage to ask, “Why aren’t you?” To this, the old man replied, Jackie-Mason-like, “You little punk, I’ve been praying for 74 years, God doesn’t mind if I take a little break!”
The old man then led us back to the main hall, where the Temple youth director gave us a stern lecture that ended with, “I want you to think about what you’ve done, and pray for forgiveness next week.” Next week was, of course, Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, when Jews assume a Catholic-like disposition and pray to God for forgiveness and redemption.
That Yom Kippur, as I read the prayers in Hebrew – a language I barely understood – I stopped mid-daven to silently ask God, in English, if he would forgive me for whatever it was I had done wrong. God said not to worry about it. Then, I asked him if I would ever have my first kiss. He said that I would. I asked him to tell me when, and with whom, at which point he closed his mouth with a zipper-like silence.
Please, I pleaded, at least tell me when, and God replied, I would, my child, but I’d rather not ruin the surprise.
I suppose that that year taught me the difference between a goal and a wish. That’s a lesson I’ve kept with me ever since. What can I control? In what areas, and with what actions, can I improve myself? I’ve come to realize that Rosh Hashanah goals work best when birthed from this impulse, as opposed to when you count on an almighty deity to swoop in and save the day.
I did eventually get that first kiss, but several years later, behind a bagel shop. The Lord works in mysterious ways.
Josh Lefkowitz is a multi-award-winning poet and humorist whose work has been featured in numerous publications both online and in print. He lives in Brooklyn, NY, but was born and raised in the suburbs of Detroit, M. He vividly remembers frequent trips across the border at the age of 19 to enjoy all that Windsor, Ontario had to offer.