Alton Brown, celebrity chef and inadvertent infertility ritualist, advocates for pomegranates to be open underwater. He cuts a sliver off of either end and scores the pomegranate lightly from pole to pole. He then submerges the pomegranate in a large bowl of water and breaks it open with his fingers, separating arils from pith. The seeds sinks to the bottom of the bowl; the waxy skin floats to the top. Rubbish is separated from the sacred, fruit is kept while the exterior is thrown away. Opening a pomegranate feels like an analogy for tashlich.
Tomorrow is Rosh Hashanah. The new year in Judaism. Tomorrow night, technically the second night of the holiday since it starts at sundown tonight, a pomegranate is served as the traditional first fruit. Some Jews believe that the pomegranate contains 613 seeds, the same number as commandments (or mitzvot) in the Torah. As much as we groove on those mitzvot as much as the next Jew, we eat pomegranates for a different reason. We're trying to get pregnant.
It's a strange marker for the year and it hurts to push through that calendar turnstile again, remembering how we ate the pomegranate last year and yet are still not pregnant. Sort of makes you scornfully mutter, "it's just an old wives tale." Yet why did I go from food store to food store to get the perfect pomegranate? Because I really want to believe that these types of rituals help more than hurt. That they make me focus. They make me think about what I want. They make me let go of some of the frustrations of this past year and start this new year with a dose of hope.
It's a hard holiday for an infertile woman. Services are filled with passages from the Torah about infertility--Sarah, Rachel, Hannah. It feels right to have this little space in the house, this quiet little ceremony where we eat a few arils, make a few wishes, count the blessing we do have, wait for the future ones we want.
On Friday, we'll go down to the river for Tashlich. We'll throw away everything we don't want to take with us into this upcoming year. All the hurt feelings and doubts and frustrations. It's about separating out the fruit--the heart--from the pith. And tossing away what doesn't need to be kept. And hoping as it floats away in the river that it's gone for good and only sweetness will be in this upcoming year.
Unlike those stupid stunt shows, this is something you can try at home. Open up a pomegranate underwater. Remove the seeds. Focus on that idea of first fruits, of creating life, of tasting sweetness. Make up your own prayer. Make up your own wish. Eat the arils alone or with your partner or sharing them with a small group of friends who all have your back. Write down your hope for the year. Reflect on it next September. Repeat the ritual again--if not for yourself, then as a hope for all the stirrup queens and sperm palace jesters still down in the trenches.