Although I wouldn’t quite consider myself a daredevil, summertime generally ends up being when I indulge the more adventurous side of my personality. And so I found myself this past July, riding on the back of a Vespa rented with a good friend as he gamely worked to navigate the crowded streets of Savannah, Georgia.
As it turns out, driving a scooter is far more challenging than it might first appear to be and far more nerve-wracking too. Fingernails digging into my poor friend’s thighs, I held my breath as we careened around the charming squares and Spanish-moss laden buildings of the town’s historic district.
For all his bravado, my friend — I believe — was a bit anxious too, and I realized this only when I noticed that during the entire course of our ride together we never made a single left-hand turn. Right we went, down towards Forsythe Park. Right we went again, picking out the old synagogue, Mickve Israel.
To get to City Market, way over there on our left? Right and then right and then right again, until we finally reached the pedestrian mall by a most circuitous route. As it turns out, you can get pretty much anywhere you need to be by making just right-hand turns! And after a while, you sort of stop noticing that you’re self-handicapping and taking the far longer way.
The lack of left-hand turns was my friend’s “tell;” it alerted me to the fact that perhaps he wasn’t as comfortable on the bike as he claimed to be. Avoiding left-hand turns (or difficult conversations or professional risk-taking or whatever it may be that each of us is most afraid of) can also, however, too easily become a way of life.
This Shabbat I welcome us all back to the Jewish Center after what I hope has been a relaxing and enjoyable summer away. The synagogue has been far too quiet these last few months, and I know that our entire staff looks forward to catching up with you and your families and to launching the new school and programming year together as a community.
We return to shul this month ready not only for a new beginning here in our building, however, but also approaching a new year on the Jewish calendar as we stand poised to welcome 5773 and to usher in the High Holiday season.
There are many goals and messages of the Days of Awe, from introspection and teshuvah (sacred return) to forgiveness, starting anew, and repairing damaged relationships. To these important themes I add one more, inspired by my Vespa-riding adventures down South. I encourage us this coming year to break patterns created out of fear; I urge us to stop choosing to make only right-hand turns because we’re too cautious to attempt a left.
It was probably wise and prudent for my friend and I to keep steering right as we rode around Savannah. We were new to Vespa-riding, after all, and the risks involved were physical and serious. But too often the limiting patterns we create for ourselves no longer serve any good purpose.
They are borne out of habit or fear or a certain amount of laziness; they hold us back from more deeply connecting with others, from realizing personal or professional goals, from helping ourselves to find happiness and fulfillment. This High Holiday season, I urge each of us to take a breath and to gingerly bear to the left. Who knows what incredible discovery might be in store for us!
Tucker is associate rabbi at the Jewish Center of Princeton. Her article on “What Matters — In Just Six Words” appeared in the January 4, 2012, edition of U.S. 1.