Rosh Hashanah 5759

New Ways to Celebrate

Back in the 1970s, Michael and Susan Strassfeld’s “The Jewish Catalog” pioneered a kind of People’s Guide to Judaism that felt comfortable and familiar to the Boomer generation. Last year, Rabbi Susan Silverman and her husband, journalist Yosef I. Abramowitz, below, followed in that tradition-within-The Tradition with “Jewish Family and Life: Traditions, Holidays and Values for Today’s Parents and Children” (Golden Books).

The demand for books like this peak around this time of year, when many Jews again face the prospect of sitting through liturgies they don’t understand delivered in a language they can’t comprehend. What’s more daunting is they often have to make what’s often dull to them exciting to their own children. It’s a task the clunkily titled “Jewish Family and Life” renders much easier. The book takes nothing for granted, starting with a chapter titled “Why Be Jewish?” It offers simple and clear explanations of Jewish holidays, traditions and values, and offers ways to make these speak to people of all ages. “This generation is interested in Judaism,” Silverman, based in Newton, Mass., said in an interview with The Journal. “This generation wants to bring spirituality and meaning into its life.” And this book will help — as this excerpt on making synagogue visits meaningful demonstrates. — Staff Report

The Birthday of the World: Rosh Hashanah

In the movie “Groundhog Day,” Bill Murray is forced to live the same day over and over until he gets it right. Meanwhile, his life is on hold; it does not move forward. When he finally breaks the old pattern, he is reborn, free to enjoy and appreciate life anew.

In a way, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year festival, has a similar message. Participating in the holiday liturgy and ritual is a declaration of independence for your soul. You are free from the shackles of the negative patterns and inclinations of the past year. Here is your chance to make a fresh start. Rosh Hashanah is a time for families to rededicate themselves to appreciating the life and home they have built and to making them better. It is the time when we face the mistakes we have made and the ways in which we have hurt others and we ask forgiveness. It is also the time when we forgive others. As a community and as individuals, we pray to God for another year. Rosh Hashanah is the first of 10 days of repentance culminating in Yom Kippur.

Rosh Hashanah is, of course, also a big birthday celebration, the birthday of the world. Whether it came about by Big Bang or God’s handiwork or both, the universe, according to Jewish tradition, was created on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishri. As we do on any birthday, we take stock of the past year, have a party, eat sweet foods and look forward to a better year.

When you are traveling on an airplane, the flight attendant tells you, “In the unlikely event of an emergency, place the oxygen mask first over your face and only then attend to your child.” As parents, we may feel a bit guilty to think of ourselves first and ignore our child’s needs. But we need to breathe in order to help our children breathe.

The same is true for nurturing a spiritual life in our children. On Rosh Hashanah we draw in deeply from the divine breath; in other words, we reach as high as we can to attain spirituality that will make us effective spiritual guides to our children in the coming year. So if they are very young and they get in the way of your prayers, don’t feel guilty about arranging adequate child care.

However, if your children are older, it may be advisable to shop around for a child-friendly synagogue, one that offers a family or children’s service. If the only synagogue in town does not have such a service, approach other parents and suggest organizing one that will hold the children’s attention and be meaningful.

For families, Rosh Hashanah can easily become a spiritual letdown if not planned wisely. If you drag your young children to a five-hour service, you had better be prepared with games, food, juices, a change of clothing and other distractions. Even then, it is unlikely that they will let you listen to the rabbi’s sermon. Leave very young children at home with a baby sitter, or bring them to the shorter service in the evening. Either way, here are some survival strategies you may want to consider:

Find out in advance which High Holiday prayer book the congregation uses, buy several copies, and have everyone in the family make a special book cover of cloth or paper.

Look through the prayer book and, at leisure, familiarize yourself with the text and highlight words that speak to you. Some High Holiday prayer books come with audio cassettes, and you can play these while driving in your car. We have also found a children’s High Holiday tape, which we play in the car while driving to and from school for several weeks prior to Rosh Hashanah. Alilza will sometimes sing one of the tunes to herself while she is playing with her blocks. As she grows up, she will become increasingly familiar with the prayers and will be more comfortable when she attends the services…

Excerted from”Jewish Life and Family: (Golden Books, 1997)