My earliest high holiday memory involves big white tents. No, I wasn't actually wandering in the desert during the Exodus. It was the '60s, and Temple Reyim in Newton was under construction, so services took place outside the synagogue, in tents.
The next high holiday memory I have is on the steps at Temple Emanuel in Newton. Emanuel's community was so large during the '70s that there were two sets of services: an early morning service in both the sanctuary and the social hall, and then a late-morning-early-afternoon service in both locations. But what was most fun was when the early-morning service let out and the late-morning people were arriving, and the two sets of people would crowd onto Ward Street and meet on the steps of the synagogue. This was a great place to meet friends, eye cute boys, and generally see what the community was up to.
My family then moved to Florida, and I remember several high holidays spent in giant theaters. The rabbi was very very very far away. I guess we were in the nose-bleed seats.
Then came the wandering years. In college, I went to services at various Hillels in Boston, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The service that impressed me the most was a creative service at Brandeis University that featured a cello playing Kol Nidre. It was extremely powerful and moving.
When I moved back to Boston after grad school, I still wandered for a while. I remember going to a family member's shul where I was horrified to discover that I was supposed to bring my own machzor. I'd never heard of such a thing! How was I supposed to pray without a machzor?
Next came Boston's Young Adult High Holiday services. This was the first time I encountered anything that could be considered "creative" in a religious service. The services were developed by young(ish) rabbis and young adults from the community, so they tended to include meditations, guided visualizations, discussion, etc. This is also around the time I met my husband, so I have fond memories of the Young Adult High Holiday scene.
After our son was born, our high holiday wandering took on a new question: what do we do with a baby during those long, long services? We continued to attend the Young Adult High Holiday services for a few years, and I remember nursing my son in the women's room during his first high holiday season. When he was two (or possibly three), we signed him up for babysitting and he surprised us by allowing us to leave him for a few hours to join the adult service. By the time he was four, we had joined our current temple, and over the years we've attended a variety of babysitting groups, pre-schooler services, and school-age services there with him.
Which brings us to today.
I guess you could say that we've stopped our physical wandering, but I feel that spiritually, I am still looking for my high holiday home. I find high holiday services to be kind of nerve-wracking. From the insane parking, to the crowds of people, to making sure my son gets to his service on time, to finding a seat in the crowded sanctuary, and then trying to stop and relax and pray and connect...it's all really quite too much. But maybe this year will be different. I can always hope.