Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, attracts the biggest crowd at our synagogue. For some reason, people we have not seen all year will make their appearance in the fall, for the High Holidays. I imagine they come to “rejewvenate” and start the year on the right foot. My wonderful husband leads the services. As a trained Rabbi and cantor, this is the highlight of the year for him.
Seven years ago, we left bustling New York City and pioneered a Jewish community center in quiet suburban San Marcos, Calif. Together, we have run programs and provide comfort and a home for the local Jewish community. For the past three years we have been temporarily relocating High Holiday services from our home to the Lake San Marcos Resort to accommodate our expanded congregation. This move entails packing and transporting meals, prayer books, toys for the kids, clothes, and seemingly everything but the kitchen sink! Of course our two adorable energetic toddlers — with their constant offers of help — add to the hustle and bustle our home acquires at this time of year. We run a Hebrew school as well, which kicks off each year in September. Hectic is an understatement.
Well, this year the Almighty had decided that we could handle just a little bit more hustling and bustling; okay, maybe even a lot more. You see, we were expecting our third child, due to arrive a week before the big day of our much-anticipated High Holiday services. So much for family planning, I guess! However, as we awaited our new addition, our excitement overshadowed any anxiety we could have been having; that is, until we got closer to the finish line.
With only a few weeks left, my husband and I discussed all possible dilemmas that could arise, should our baby decide to arrive precisely on Rosh Hashanah, the most important day for our congregation. We know how much the community was counting on us, and we looked forward to spending this important event with them. Finding a replacement Rabbi in this part of town was wishful thinking. Since I prefer that our children’s births happen without much intervention, I definitely didn’t want to interfere with my baby’s birth date. We had good reason to be stressed, but instead, we preferred to leave it in the hands of G-d. My husband and I conveniently decided that we were not in control anyway, so with little choice, we agreed to adhere to the wise words of our sages, “Everything that happens is for the best.” Little did we know how true this would prove to be!
With a little over a week before the holiday, I prayed that I would give birth, ASAP. I visited my midwife, eager to get some assurance that our baby’s arrival was imminent, and that I would be able join our community fit as a fiddle by Rosh Hashanah. The instant I came face to face with the expert — who, in my desperation, seemingly would have the news I sought — I let out a sigh and explained our timing challenges. She was sympathetic, as she assured me, “Don’t worry, Chanie, we still have time. You can certainly have this baby before the New Year.” My due date passed and nothing was happening. I walked and jogged, ate spicy food and walked some more, and still — nothing!
Finally, I felt contractions. Three days were left until we’d usher in the New Year. I could have this baby and still get home with plenty of time to spare. But my body and mind were playing games with me, and the contractions suddenly stopped. The following day, the contractions came and went again, making us a bit frantic. I was so desperate to give birth on time that I had to keep convincing myself that the baby would come when the time was right, by G-d’s schedule, not our own. After another sleepless night we got ready for the busy day ahead of us. To keep sane, I reminded myself that I am always in good hands: I knew then, and know extra well now, that G-d has plans.
We arrived at the hotel with all of our paraphernalia, including a car seat for our yet- unborn baby (just in case). We were so rushed getting everything in order for the holiday, I hardly paid attention to the contractions I was experiencing. As I set up the candles and attended to the last-minute touches, all dressed up (yes, in my heels!), smiling, and welcoming our congregation, I attempted to count the minutes between the pains I seemed to be experiencing. Were they getting closer? The last thing I needed was to have services interrupted by my taking center stage. I breathed a sigh of relief as I heard my husband’s beautiful voice conclude a most inspiring service welcoming the New Year. As our guests left the hotel, my husband pulled one of our loyal and more experienced congregants aside. He let him know that he might just have to take over in the morning. He gave him a crash course, still hoping that he wouldn’t have to use it.
Back in the privacy of our room, the contractions seemed to intensify. As dawn approached, I turned to my husband and desperately cried, “I don’t think I can hold out until after morning services!”
We hurriedly prepared to dash out, first awakening my dear sister, who had graciously traveled from New York to watch our precious boys. We gave her last minute instructions, and then we were off to the hospital. I was immediately admitted and waited for the midwife on call.
It was still hard to believe that our fears — of this affecting our Chabad House congregation’s High Holiday worship — were actually playing out. As we started feeling guilty for leaving the community on their own, in walked Midwife Jane. She took one look at my husband — wrapped in his tallit, swaying back and forth — and broke out in a huge smile.
“What happened?” She asked, “Your baby didn’t cooperate with your New Year plans, huh?!”
She performed a quick exam.
“Do you think you can deliver this baby within the hour, so I can make it back in time for my sermon?” my husband joked.
“Not a chance. Sorry, Rabbi,” she laughed. “But, hey, are you going to blow the shofar here?” she asked, eyeing the one on the table nearby.
“I definitely will! Maybe it will help get the baby moving!” He answered with a wink.
The midwife was flabbergasted. “I have not heard the shofar in twelve years; I’m so excited to get to hear it on Rosh Hashanah!”
My husband was praying with extra fervor, I could tell, and this gave me the strength to keep going as the labor intensified. It was 11:30 a.m. by now, and my husband was ready to blow the shofar. The midwife was at my side, squeezing my hand as the shofar blasted. I breathed fast and deeply as another contraction passed, and a rush of emotions flooded over me. I couldn’t hold back the tears. The shofar’s sound always brings back memories for me as a child growing up in Brooklyn. This time it was coupled with the release of lots of hormones and the emotional pressures of the past weeks. I let it all go and said a silent prayer, and then I looked over at my midwife. Her facial expression told me this experience was touching her deeply as well. The long final blast was sounded.
There was no waiting this time. Just a few minutes before noon, we had our Rosh Hashanah baby. I looked up at my husband, holding our beautiful baby girl, overwhelmed with joy and thanks to G-d.
“You see,” I said to her, “It was all meant to be, so that you could hear the shofar! What are the chances that a Jewish midwife would be on call to deliver our baby, on Rosh Hashanah, in this part of town?!”
She smiled back and said, “Actually, I am not usually in the hospital on Thursdays. I’m replacing another midwife, just for today!”
As for the community, when they heard the wonderful news they were thrilled to be able to share in our celebration. The following day, my husband named our baby at the Torah reading, during the services for the second day of Rosh Hashanah. Chaya, meaning life, was the name we chose for our daughter born on Rosh Hashanah, the day when all life began.