I will celebrate my birthday this month, בעזרת השם. When I say “this month,” I have in mind two months, really: one of them is the Gregorian calendar month of May; the other one is the Hebrew calendar month of Iyyar. In the Gregorian year in which I was born, May 16, the day I was born, fell on the Hebrew date Iyyar 29. I have elected to celebrate my birthday each year on its Hebrew date. Of course, not all Jews have made the same choice. My wife, for example, keeps her birthday on the Gregorian date of her birth, November 16.
May, or Iyyar, no matter how you call it, is a beautiful month. I’ve always liked it, not just because of my birthday. I like it even more because of its charm, the flowers, trees, air, weather and a host of other things. As a young boy, I remember reading the illustrated version of Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood. Pyle, it seems, knew much about the glories of May. In Pyle’s Prologue to the book, we find an eighteen-year-old Robin Hood passing through Sherwood Forest on his way to an archery contest in Nottingham. When? Ah…
“It was at the dawn of day in the merry May-time, when hedgerows are green and flowers bedeck the meadows; daisies pied and yellow cuckoo buds and fair primroses all along the briery hedges; when apple buds blossom and sweet birds sing, the lark at dawn of day, the throstle cock and cuckoo; when lads and lasses look upon each other with sweet thoughts; when busy housewives spread their linen to bleach upon the bright green grass.”Howard Pyle. The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (First Edition): Illustrated Classics (p. 2). SeaWolf Press. Kindle Edition.
For several weeks after reading the book, I would make bows and arrows, and I had a cudgel stick. To this day, green is my favorite color. My wife recently returned from visiting her daughter and new grandson in New Jersey. She returned with two tumblers, gifts for me, one green and one blue, from the Vermont Country Store. The green one is for my weekday use—Sunday through Friday; the blue one is reserved for Shabbos. Blue is my wife’s favorite color.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate birthdays more. There is, of course, the apparent reason for being grateful to be able to celebrate another year of life. But I’ve also come to understand how birthdays, in one sense, are more about your parents than yourself. My life began on May 16. My parents’ lives changed radically, forever.
My mother was just nineteen and a half when I was born. I was her first child successfully born. Previously, she had lost a child through miscarriage. Dad sent my mother flowers from “Kathryn’s Flower Shop,” 529 N. W. Eleventh, Oklahoma City. He enclosed a hand-written card.
“Only after the dark clouds & rain will the sun shine. All my Love to my finest family any man can wish for—Look alway ahead never back. Love Alway Ralph.”
Please note my father’s peculiar spelling of what we commonly spell “always.” Growing up in the mountains of North Carolina has certain distinctive linguistic advantages. The English spoken there has much in common with the English of Shakespeare.
al·way adverb \ ˈȯl-(ˌ)wā \
Origin of ALWAY
Middle English alwey, alway
First Known Use: before 12th century
—Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, s.v. “alway,” accessed May 6, 2021, https://unabridged.merriam-webster.com/unabridged/alway.
Concerning birthdays, the Rebbe of blessed memory [seventh Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch] once said:
“Because time itself is like a spiral, something special happens on your birthday each year: The same energy that God invested in you at birth is present once again.”—Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
May it be so. May I enter this new year of life aware of the hopes, dreams, and energy that God and my parents invested in my birth! And may you also when your birthday rolls around.
Following Chabad custom, I will begin reciting the chapter of Psalms that corresponds to my age on my next year’s birthday each morning before reciting the daily portion of Psalms. For example, a thirteen-year-old boy begins reciting Psalm 14 on his 13th birthday. I will be saying Psalm 72.
All the best,