I haven’t done the research, but I’d venture to say that for most people, the best day of the year is one’s birthday.
For most of my childhood, my birthday festivities would go as follows: I’d go to sleep the evening of February 28th (or 29th during the dreaded leap years) and all would be normal. I’d awake the next morning by being serenaded by my parents, singing the Beatles’ birthday song. My mother would remark, at least four times throughout the day, “I can’t believe you’re 12, it seem’s like only yesterday you were 11” or however old I or my sister were that year. I’d head downstairs and the entire house would be decorated with streamers and the other birthday decorations. There would be a special breakfast and dinner, a call from my grandparents who would be on the phone together. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how they could do that. The day would be incredible. My sister would receive similar treatment on her birthday, and at times, the birthday decorations would stay up until my mother and father’s birthdays, almost a month later.
September 26th is my mother’s birthday. Tomorrow, is my father’s birthday (Ironically, my in-laws are also a day apart). It’s weird celebrating one and not the other, so to speak. It’s strange waking up today I can no longer call her and give her birthday wishes. I missed the July 4th pre-birthday bash the year she passed away, as I was in Israel staffing an NCSY summer trip. I’ve kicked myself 1000 times for not being there. I always assumed I’d make the next party. I was even in Cleveland for her birthday shortly before her petirah, which fell on yuntif that year. I didn’t walk to the hospital to see her. I figured we’d have more birthdays together. Is today just another, regular day?
I’ve always been taught that Jewish tradition has an interesting view on birthdays. The Torah has one instance of a birthday, the birthday of Pharaoh, seemingly mentioned in passing at the end of Beresheet. We usually wish someone life of good health until the age of 120, the age of Moshe Rabbeinu at the time of his passing. As I remarked at her funeral, my mother passed away at 60, needing only half the time to complete her mission in this world. To those that knew her, it makes perfect sense.
There are those who believe that on one’s birthday, they elevated to a higher spiritual plane, and give brachot to those around them. Some are big believers in this practice, while others are not.
Another idea that I learned, although the exact details remain a bit fuzzy, is that, for males, one should recognize the day of their brit milah in addition to their birthday, since that was the day that they were brought into the covenant of our forefathers. This is an idea that is stuck in my head today as I attended the bris of the son of one of our “Cleveland cousins”, helping bring happiness back to a day that seemed so hard to celebrate since my mother died. I know it’s only the secular date, and my mother’s Hebrew birthday falls out on Chol HaMoed Sukkot, but I’m not one to nitpick when it comes to seeking comfort.
We love you, Mom. It seems like only yesterday that you were here.