This colorful booklet lists all the ritual items needed for the Passover table. The history and significance of each item on the seder plate is explained, as are the customs that have been handed down through the generations.
JScreen provides convenient, at-home, saliva-based genetic carrier screening with the goal of preventing Jewish genetic diseases such as Tay-Sachs disease and Canavan disease. JScreen is a national program and is headquartered at Emory University in Atlanta.
A great way for Jewish professionals and volunteers who work with and provide programming for people in interfaith relationships to locate resources and trainings to build more welcome into their Jewish communities; connect with and learn from each other; and publicize and enhance their programs and services.
The following post is by guest blogger Jodi Rosenfeld from the Philadelphia area.
I sometimes feel like I am one of many circus performers juggling a variety of hats while the audience watches to see if I drop oneâ€”but the circus is my synagogue and the audience is my fellow congregants. My goal is not to make anyone laugh or watch in awe but simply to maintain the peace while moving the show forward in preparation for the next act.
At my small, century-old, Conservative synagogue in the western suburbs of Philadelphia, I was the facilitator of the Interfaith Work Group, a group that met for many months for the purpose of clarifying and then codifying our synagogueâ€™s policy on membership for interfaith couples and families. This means I had to wear and juggle my many hats at once. And for that, I had to learn about balance.
The Interfaith Work Group was born of a conflict. The conflict began when several interfaith families were preparing for their childrenâ€™s Bâ€™nai Mitzvah and the parent who was not Jewish realized that, according to Conservative tradition, he or she was not welcome to stand on the bimah. Even the father who was not Jewish but whoâ€™d served on several committees, was an active part of the community and had studied Hebrew alongside his son, could not stand at the Torah with his wife when she said the blessings before and after the Torah reading.
And then the backlash began. Some of the elders and more traditional long-time members of the congregation felt slighted at best, rejected and insulted at worst. For decades, they had poured themselves into â€śthe way weâ€™ve always done things.â€ť They felt that these changes were a watering-down of Judaism. Some got angry. Some left.
The Interfaith Work Group was a small cross-section of all of the above constituents that came together to get the facts straight (from the Rabbi about issues of ritual inclusion and Halacha; and from the Board about issues of governance), and then to clearly articulate these policies through the synagogueâ€™s website.
Was I the â€śrightâ€ť person, with all those hats in the air, to lead this group? I am a psychologist, which means I am trained to observe everyoneâ€™s feelings, even those with whom I may disagree. I am a Reform Jew by upbringing, which means I am accustomed to inclusion. I am the granddaughter of an observant, Conservative Jewish man, whose tallis and tefillin I wear each week, which means he is with me, in my synagogue, even today. I am a Jew married to a Jew, which means Iâ€™m one of them. And Iâ€™m an activist who fights discrimination in all forms, which means Iâ€™m one of them. I am a proponent of change yet one who wants to preserve the past.
My learning about balance came from my utter failure at facilitating the Work Group. The facilitator needed to be impartial, to lead the group without taking sides. Despite my many hats, I wanted to forge ahead with change. I wanted both Jews and those who are not Jewish but who are part of Jewish families to feel fully included in all aspects of our community. I wanted all of the young, prospective interfaith families in Chester County to flock to us, to think, â€śNow this is the kind of Conservative synagogue I want to be a part of.â€ť I wasnâ€™t particularly balanced.
What Iâ€™ve learned is that if we want to evolve as a community, we all need to be empathic toward one another. Interfaith families want more inclusion of family members who are not Jewish not because they want to water down tradition, but because they want to be more fully a part of our rich Jewish heritage. Long-timers donâ€™t resist these changes because they want interfaith families to leave, but because they have worked so hard to help the Jewish people thrive and they are afraid that change means loss. Change always means loss. But it also means gain.
Only by listening to one another and allowing ourselves to wear one anotherâ€™s hats for a moment can we truly appreciate that this change is a process of growth for us all. The reality is that we all need to be jugglersâ€”we need to understand one anotherâ€™s many motivations, question the familiar and approach one another with kindness in order to truly facilitate the evolution of our Jewish population.
I recently spoke with a couple that Iâ€™ve known for a while. The husband (Iâ€™ll call him Ben; not his real name) is Jewish and the wife (Iâ€™ll call her Rachel; also not her real name) is Lutheran. They are very excited because Rachel is pregnant with their first child. They both grew up in religious households, and each of them take their religion very seriously. They had agreed before they were married that while they would each continue to practice their own religion, they would raise their children in only one religion, but had not decided which one. Not long after Rachel became pregnant with their first child, they together decided that while Rachel would continue to attend her church and practice her religion, they would have a Jewish family and raise their children as Jews.
As a person who values Judaism and Jewish peoplehood and continuity greatly, I was thrilled to hear that Ben and Rachel had decided to raise their children as Jews. I know many families in which mothers who are not Jewish are raising Jewish children while continuing to practice a different religion and finding this to work very well for themselves and their families. I see Ben and Rachelâ€™s decision to raise their children as Jews as a testament to the fact that they were married by a rabbi who was open and understanding as well as to the fact that the Jewish community has become increasingly welcoming to interfaith couples and families. In addition, Benâ€™s family accepted Rachel from the very beginning, embracing her and welcoming her into their family.
I was very happy when Ben and Rachel shared their decision with me. A Jewish family! As a rabbi and as someone who advocates for inclusion of interfaith families in the Jewish community and works to encourage interfaith families to embrace Judaismâ€”and as a Jewish person who greatly values the beliefs, values and traditions of my religion and who knows how wonderful and meaningful it is to be part of a Jewish family and the Jewish communityâ€”I was thrilled, both for Ben and Rachel, as well as for the Jewish community as a whole.
It's important to acknowledge how difficult this decision may be for the partner who is not Jewish
But I also felt a pang of sadness. I realized all that Rachel was giving up. I thought of how meaningful it is for me to say the Shabbat blessings with my children every Friday evening before dinner and how it connects me to saying those very same blessings with my parents on Friday evenings when I was growing up. I thought of how much I enjoy saying the Shema with my kids before they go to bedâ€”just as I said the Shema with my parents before going to bed when I was a child. I love sharing MY rituals and MY beliefs with my children, as I pass them on lâ€™dor va-dor, â€śfrom generation to generationâ€ť and they become OUR way of life.
Rachel, who has committed to raising her children in a religion different from the one in which she grew up, will be able to pass on her values to her children, but she wonâ€™t have the opportunity to pass on her beliefs and traditionsâ€”to share with them the religious rituals she enjoyed as a child and continues to find meaningful today. She wonâ€™t have the opportunity to raise her children in the church in which she grew up. When her kids celebrate Christmas and Easter with her, they wonâ€™t be THEIR holidays, they will be HER holidays. In committing to pass on Judaism, her husbandâ€™s religion, to the next generation, Rachel is giving up the opportunity to pass on her own religion from one generation to the next.
Rachel spoke of the sense of loss that she feels in having decided not to raise her children in the religion in which she grew up and which she still practices. She further spoke of how this loss isnâ€™t felt just by her, but by her family as well. But she also spoke of how she has come to embrace her decision to raise her children as Jews, and how she is excited that she will be able to fully participate in her familyâ€™s Jewish celebrations and observances, while still having a religious life of her own. She knows that this is the right choice for her familyâ€”and for herâ€¦but that doesnâ€™t mean it will always be easy.
Rachel and Ben have made a big decision. They are excited to have reached this decision and Rachel is happy with it. But she doesnâ€™t deny the loss she feels, and neither does Ben. I am optimistic that as their children grow up they will both feel good about their decision to have a Jewish family and that Ben will continue to be supportive of Rachel in acknowledging that it may not always be easy for her. But just because something isnâ€™t easy doesnâ€™t mean it isnâ€™t wonderful. I know first-hand the joy and rewards of raising Jewish children and I am excited for Ben and Rachel that they will know them as well.
I think itâ€™s important for all of us in the Jewish community, when we celebrate a coupleâ€™s decision to raise their children as Jews, to acknowledge how difficult this may be for the partner who is not Jewish. Yes, we can (and we should) be excited that Judaism will be passed on to the next generation and that the children will be blessed to grow up as Jews and that the Jewish community will be blessed to have them in our midst. But we canâ€™t pretend that this will always be easy for the partner who isnâ€™t Jewish and we need to give them the opportunity to feel and express their loss as we respect the sacrifices they have made.
Are you raising your children in a religion different from the religion which you grew up? Has this been difficult for you? What are the greatest challenges? What are the rewards? Respond in the comments section below.
An exciting opportunity came across my inbox the other day that I wanted to tell you aboutâ€”in the hopes that youâ€™ll take advantage of it for your own community.
Our friends at the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation announced that they just launched their newest microgrant campaign–the #MakeItHappen initiativeâ€”inviting individuals to submit inspiring ideas to create unique and engaging Jewish experiences in their communities, for themselves and their peers.Â Here are the details:
Up to 50 ideas will be selected to receive a micro grant of up to $1,000
5 ideas could receive up to $5,000.
Submit between now and December 6, 2013; event must take place no later than May 31, 2014â€”but the earlier you apply, the better! The Foundation is selecting recipients weekly, beginning the week of October 29.
Lots of ideas? Multiple submissions are permitted.
The idea is to enable specific experiences and events to happen that would not have otherwise occurred. A central part of the experience should include a Jewish element, whether itâ€™s cultural, educational, spiritual or social.
We all know lots of people who wonâ€™t compromise. One friend spent so much time compromising that he didnâ€™t realize his partner wasnâ€™t compromising at all. Not only was there no balance in that relationship, there was no respect. Trying to find balance is a constant effort but crucial to the success of any relationship.
I remember when I was engaged and planning our wedding, my family had strong opinions about many things. It felt like we were arguing about everything. A friend gave me the best advice: Pick three things.
I have found that this advice can be applied to so many things. When making decisions with a partner, there are a variety of aspects to the decision. Take any hot topic and divide it into sections. The great thing about having a piece of a decision in your control is that you are in control of something. For many people, it is the lack of control that brings out frustration and even anger. And leaving pieces of the decision in other peopleâ€™s hands means that you arenâ€™t acting like a â€ścontrol freakâ€ť and that you are respecting the desires and needs of others.
For example, when you and your partner are looking to buy a house, instead of debating about a specific house, one of you can pick the general location and the other can pick the style of house. If the decision making process gets too contentious, you and your partner should switch priorities. You may find that when you switch roles, the stress disappears.
When searching to buy our home where would be raising our kids, my husband and I debated about schools and school districts. We realized that finding a synagogue to join with a religious school we liked was also a part of the equation. After a while when we still couldnâ€™t reach an agreement on where we wanted to live, we switched priorities. Quickly, we resolved the issue. As long each of us had control over some aspect of the decision process, we ultimately came up with a plan that made us both happy. We both felt that we had input and we were able to respect the otherâ€™s wishes.Â And now for 8 years weâ€™ve been living in a house and an area that we love!
Do you have a technique that helps you negotiate lifeâ€™s decisions? Tell us about it!
A few weeks ago, my son was reading Torah at a Saturday evening service. It is a very small service of 15-20 people and a nice opportunity for him to read without a large audience and to practice reading before his Bar Mitzvah next year. My in-laws who live a few towns over decided to attend. They were excited for him. The Rabbi saw them and asked if they wanted to have the aliyah for my sonâ€™s torah reading. They both said no.
At first I thought they were uncomfortable because they were taking an honor from someone else. So I looked at them and said, â€śThere is no one here, go ahead.â€ť They said no thanks again. I was perplexed. They are both Jewish and have participated in synagogue life elsewhere. They are completely comfortable in a synagogue and knew most of the people in the room.
An Aliyah is an honor within the Torah service. It allows the honoree(s) to stand beside the Torah reader (their grandson) and witness his reading. I also always think it is fascinating to be up close and personal with the Torah. (I always am amazed that this beautiful scroll is in every synagogue in the world and created by hand. When you factor in the longevity of the textâ€¦it is really cool.) I thought my in-laws would be thrilled to be up there with their oldest grandson and to watch him read from the Torah. Wouldnâ€™t they want this honor?
The concept of a Jewish person not wanting to accept an honor in a synagogue struck a chord. I recently wrote a blog about the beauty of the blessings given by someone who is not Jewish during a Bar/Bat Mitzvah. In many congregations, someone who is not Jewish cannot say a blessing for their child. My feeling is that the person who is not Jewish and blesses their child and the childâ€™s Jewish learning is making a wonderful statement of support to the community. So why wouldnâ€™t my in-laws want to participate?
Then I remembered my days in high school choir when we were in churches singing our hearts out. Sometimes there would be communion after we sang. Being raised in a strict Jewish household, I would refuse to participate even though I was the only one from the choir that wouldnâ€™t go up to the altar. I had a friend who was also Jewish but she did go up for communion. We spoke of it once and she said she didnâ€™t feel comfortable sitting on the pew when everyone else was kneeling or taking communion. I always remember this conversation and that one personâ€™s comfort is another personâ€™s discomfort.
Now, as I often think about welcoming a person of a different faith inside a Jewish institution, I have to remember: Sometimes people want to participate, and sometimes they want to opt out. Either way, we should do all in our power to make them feel comfortable whatever their preference.
I have been thinking about my in-laws sinceâ€¦we only do what we are comfortable doing. We all have different experiences and influences. Certainly no one should be forced to do something when they are uncomfortable. Religion is obviously a very personal decision and experience. My in-laws were not mentally prepared for an aliyah and this isnâ€™t a synagogue where they are members. I get itâ€”it wasnâ€™t right for them. Still, I know they were very proud of their grandson and his ability and intent to carry on the traditions.
While many synagogues are re-evaluating the role of the family members from various religions during various ceremonies, we must realize that not every person who isnâ€™t Jewish will WANT to participate. Some people think that their synagogue doesnâ€™t need to offer options because, â€śWhy would a person who isnâ€™t Jewish want to participate?â€ťÂ My response is: Let each individual decide what their comfort level is. We all have to remember that welcoming means offering options for inclusion. And, by simply offering the option for participation, the community sends the message of welcoming.
I love the holiday of Sukkot! As a congregational rabbi, Sukkotâ€”which comes just five days after Yom Kippurâ€”offers me a welcome break after the pressure of High Holy Day sermons.Â Plus, Sukkot is a lot of fun. I always have a great time putting up our Sukkah in our backyard in the days following Yom Kippur and then decorating it with my kids.
And I love inviting guests to our Sukkahâ€”both real guests as well as ushpizin. Ushpizin (Aramaic for â€śguestsâ€ť) are Biblical guests that are symbolically â€śinvitedâ€ť into a Sukkah, a different one each night of the festival. The traditional list of ushpizin includes Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David. (Other lists include the four matriarchsâ€”Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leahâ€”and other Biblical heroines.) There is a ritual formula for â€śwelcomingâ€ť the ushpizin and it is traditional to learn about and discuss the Biblical guest of the evening.
Many people expand on the custom of welcoming ushpizin and use Sukkot as a time to discuss who they would like to welcome as guests: people who have been part of their own lives or people they have never met, living or deceased.
This year as I prepare for Sukkot I have been thinking about who I would want to invite as ushpizinâ€”that is, who I would want to invite for dinner in my Sukkah. As the Director of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia, I have been thinking in particular about people in interfaith relationships and people with relatives in interfaith relationships (individuals from Biblical times as well as groups of people from modern times) that I would like to have as ushpizin. Here is my list:
1.Â Tziporah: Tziporah, who we read about in the Book of Exodus in the Bible, was a daughter of a Midianite priest. Tziporah married Moses and was the mother of his two sons. I would ask Tziporah what it was like, as a non-Israelite, being married to a man who went on to become the leader of the Israelites. When she first met Moses she thought he was Egyptian since he had come to Midian from Egypt, where he had been raised in the Pharaohâ€™s palace as the adopted son of Pharaohâ€™s daughter and from where he had fled when it was discovered that he had killed an Egyptian taskmaster. What did she think of this man, quite possibly the first person she had ever met who was not from her own people? Was she concerned when she married him that he was not a Midianite? What was it like in her day to be married to someone from a different culture and who worshipped a different god? Did they ever discuss their different backgrounds and beliefs?
2. Ruth: Ruth, whose story we read in the Biblical Book of Ruth, is often viewed as the first Jew-by-choice since she accepted the God of the Israelites as her God and the Israelite people as her people. In the Book of Ruth, Ruth said to her Israelite mother-in-law, Naomi: â€śWhere you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my Godâ€ť (Ruth 1:16)
I would ask Ruth why she, a Moabite woman, married an Israelite man in the first place. Then, after her husband (Naomiâ€™s son) had died, why did she choose to leave her homeland of Moab to go to Israel with Naomi? What did it feel like for Ruth to leave behind everything that was familiar to her and did she miss her family when she left? What was it like to give up the beliefs and ways of her people? What was it about the people of Israel and the God of Israel that drew her to them? When she raised the twin sons that she had with Boaz (a relative of her deceased husband, as was instructed by the laws of levirate marriage), even though they were Israelite, did she teach them anything about Moabite culture or tell them about her Moabite family?
3.Â Parents who did not grow up Jewish who are actively involved in raising Jewish children (whether or not they have chosen to become Jewish themselves): I know many parents who grew up practicing other religions (some of whom still practice them, others who do not) who are raising their children as Jews. If I had such a group in my Sukkah, I would ask them to discuss the sacrifices they have made by committing to raise their children in a faith tradition different from the one in which they grew up. How did they come to the conclusion that they wanted to raise their children as Jews? What are the challenges they have faced, as well as the rewards? I would thank them for their commitment to the future of Judaism.
4.Â Jewish parents whose children are in interfaith relationships: I would like these Jewish parents to be able to have an honest conversation about how they feel about their children being seriously involved with someone who is not Jewish. Surely some would feel disappointedâ€”perhaps even hurt or rejectedâ€”and their feelings should not be ignored. Hopefully, though, they would understand that it is their adult childâ€™s choice who they are going to date and/or marry and they would respect their childâ€™s decision. I would encourage all of them to accept their childrenâ€™s partners and welcome them into their family.
5.Â Rabbis and cantors who officiate at interfaith wedding ceremonies: I would ask each clergy person to share his or her own reasons for officiating at interfaith weddings. There are many clergy, like myself, who did not officiate at interfaith weddings immediately following ordination, but rather began to do so after some time for a variety of reasons. (Read why I now officiate at interfaith weddings.) I think it would be fascinating to hear about my colleaguesâ€™ personal journeys and to hear from each of them the most rewarding, as well as the most challenging experiences they have had in working with interfaith couples.
6.Â Children growing up in interfaith households: I would love to invite a group of children of all different ages who are currently growing up in interfaith households. I would ask them what they find to be the most rewarding and what they find to be the most challenging about growing up as part of an interfaith family. In what ways, if any, do they find that having a parent who is not Jewish impacts their Jewish identity?
7. Dating, engaged and newly married interfaith couples: I would begin by asking them to share their experiences as interfaith couples. What are the rewards and what are the challenges? Have they discussed how they are going to raise children if they have them? How can they make Jewish choices while honoring the traditions of both partners? Can they discuss these issues with their parents?
Okay, Iâ€™ll admit it: While it is true that I would love to have a group of interfaith couples in my Sukkah, Iâ€™m also plugging InterfaithFamily/Philadelphiaâ€™s upcoming Love and Religion workshop that starts in October. If you and your partner or a couple you know may be interested in discussing questions such as these, then you should find out about Love and Religion here.
Chag Sameach(happy holiday)!Â May this Sukkot be one in which we can all be welcoming and one in which we all feel welcomed!
What about you? Who are your dream ushpizin? If you could spend an evening with any person or group of people (real or fictional, living or deceased), who would you choose? What would you want to talk about?
I admit it â€“ I was raised to think that intermarriage is wrong. It has taken awhile but I now am embarrassed by some of the comments I might have made when friends told me they were marrying someone who wasnâ€™t Jewish. I was insensitive. On this Yom Kippur, I want to ask for forgiveness from those whom I have offended. In many instances, I may not have said anything, but the negative thoughts crossed my mind and an expression of disapproval may have crossed my face. Again, I apologize.
In my defense, we all are evolving. We all say things that might have been inappropriate. I donâ€™t lose sleep over insensitive comments I may have made 10 years ago. I was young. I was immature. I am not perfect. I try not to let guilt consume me, but there is a fine line between being conscientious and guilt ridden!
But here is something I hadn’t thought of until a few months ago: Our comments leave scars. I know that I offended some people and that they remember my comment or look of disapproval. So, even though I have evolved, I may have hurt their feelings and I suspect they still remember it. In fact, my act of disapproval may be the last (and only) thing they remember about me. Who was I to judge?
This reminds me of the old Kabbalah story where a child says bad things about someone to a friend. Madonna and Loren Long have rewritten this story for todayâ€™s family in Mr. Peabodyâ€™s Apples. In this story, Mr. Peabody is an elementary school teacher and baseball coach, who one day finds himself ostracized when a child misinterprets an incident and then spreads rumors through their small town. Mr. Peabody silences the gossip by teaching the child how we must choose our words carefully to avoid causing harm to others. The child is told to take a pillow to the baseball field and tear it open. The wind is blowing and all of the feathers fly everywhere.Â Mr. Peabody asks the child to collect the feathers and put them back in the pillow. The child tells him that it is impossible. Like feathers in the wind, we canâ€™t put our words back in our mouths.
Since we canâ€™t take our words or acts back once they are out there, this Yom Kippur I want to say:
1) I apologize for any words, actions or thoughts that may have been insensitive.
2) To anyone who might have offended me, I forgive you and know that we are all evolving. Hopefully, we can all evolve a little faster before we hurt anyone elseâ€™s feelings.
I wish for all of us that our personal journeys take us to a place of kindness and understanding. Happy New Year. May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life.
Not long ago I was sitting at my computer playing around on the Internet and I found myself at deathclock.com, which bills itself as â€śthe Internet’s friendly reminder that life is slipping away â€¦ second by second.â€ť All you have to do is enter your date of birth, your gender, your â€śmodeâ€ť (whether youâ€™re normal, pessimistic, sadistic or optimistic), your height and weight, and your smoking status. Then you click a button that says â€śCheck Your Death Clockâ€ť and it calculates your date of death.
I didnâ€™t put in my information to â€ścheck my death clock.â€ť I was so freaked out by the thought of knowing my date of death (or at least what deathclock.com predicted as my date of death) that I quickly left the website, and promised myself Iâ€™d never go back again.
But the reality is that even though I donâ€™t want to know WHEN Iâ€™m going to die, I do have to accept the fact that I AM going to die. Rabbi David Wolpe tells the story of a man at age 93 who continues to be comforted by the consoling words that his mother had said to him while lying on her deathbed, seventy years earlier: â€śDonâ€™t be afraid. It happens to everyone.â€ť
Itâ€™s a fact of life. â€¦Weâ€™re all going to die.
And while I may never go back to deathclock.com, the reality of my mortality is something that I canâ€™t avoid thinking about this time of year. Confrontation with death is one of the significant themes of the Jewish High Holy Days, and especially of Yom Kippur.
On Yom Kippur, some Jews wear a white kittel (burial shroud) over their clothing, which serves as a reminder of our mortality. And in synagogue on Yom Kippur, Jews confront death when we recite the Unetaneh Tokef prayer, describing â€śwho shall live and who shall die, who shall live out his days and who shall not live out his days.â€ť
What I love about Yom Kippur is that this â€śconfrontation with deathâ€ť isnâ€™t morbid or creepy. Rather, we confront death so that we can be more fully present in life. When we recognize and acknowledge that life is precarious, we realize how truly precious it is.
Every year at this time I ask myself: What would I do if I were going to die tomorrow? How would I live my life? How would I treat the people I love? Is there someone to whom I would apologize? Is there someone with whom Iâ€™ve lost touch who I want to reconnect with? I try to use the answers to questions like these to inform how I act during the High Holidays and in the year ahead.
These questions and others that help us to become better people and lead more meaningful lives are ones that we should all be asking ourselves throughout the year. And for Jews and those who are part of Jewish families, they are questions on which we should especially focus this time of year.
Hopefully, all of us can use our answers to the question â€śWhat would I do if I were going to die tomorrow?â€ť to inform how we live TODAY.
What about you? Are there questions youâ€™ve been thinking about this time of year? Iâ€™d love to hear what youâ€™re thinking.
I have some really strange memories of childhood and unusual events. One of these memories is about the celebration of the first fruit on Rosh Hashanah. The custom is to enjoy a new fruit to celebrate the New Year and say a special blessing (Shehecheyanu) recognizing the blessing of arriving at this moment.
Our family would stay at my Grandmotherâ€™s (Gran) for Rosh Hashanah and eat our meals there. My mother always made sure there was a new fruit at the table so that we could say the Shehecheyanu. The tradition is that it should be a fruit that you havenâ€™t had in many months.
One year, the new fruit was a coconut. With the chaos of five kids and several meals, my mother didnâ€™t realize that we didnâ€™t have any way to open the coconut. One of my brothers decided it was a good idea to throw the coconut from my Granâ€™s balcony onto the busy street. The rest of us thought this was a great idea. One of us went out to the sidewalk to make sure there was no traffic coming to give the â€śOK.â€ťÂ (About now, you may be wondering where our parents were at this time and I have no idea, but I am sure they were busy with something.)
â€śOne. Two. Three.â€ť
BOUNCE with a thud and a roll into the street!
The coconut didnâ€™t break! We couldnâ€™t believe it. We were laughing and watching for traffic. I come from a very determined family, so we threw it back up to the second floor balcony and tried again two more times with the same result. On the fourth time:
â€śOne. Two. Three.â€ť
We did it! The coconut broke open into several sections. I donâ€™t remember how we cut it up but I assume it involved some sharp knives and minimal supervision. Our parents may have been paying attention at this point but thought the whole scene was clever and funny. When we sat down for dinner, we said our Shehecheyanu blessing giggling and smiling the whole time. Iâ€™m not sure if Gran knew what we had done but she never said anything.
Every year after this inaugural event, my mother bought a coconut. Each year we hurled it off the balcony, laughing while watching for traffic. I love this memory and so do my four siblings. It reminds us of family, holiday and custom. The Jewish holidays have some customs that you may think are a little wacky in our American culture but the wackiness is what creates the memories. My siblings and I all laugh at our respective homes when we eat our â€śfirst fruitâ€ť of the New Yearâ€¦especially if someone has a coconut.
To this day, I must admit I really donâ€™t like coconut. But I do try to make every Rosh Hashanah out of the ordinary in hope that it becomes an â€śextraordinaryâ€ť memory for my family.
I wish you an extraordinary holiday season with many wonderful and wacky memories. Share your wackiest below!
According to a website called statisticbrain.com, the top five New Yearâ€™s resolutions people made for 2012 were:
Spend Less, Save More
Enjoy Life to the Fullest
Stay Fit and Healthy
When calculated for types of resolutions, they found that 47% of resolutions made were related to self-improvement or education; 38% were related to weight; 34% were related to money; and 31% were related to relationships. (The total comes out to over 100% because people made multiple resolutions.)
Like most Americans, I make New Yearâ€™s resolutions in December (or, in years that not procrastinating doesnâ€™t make my list, I sometimes make them in January). And this time of year, in the Jewish month of Elul, I also engage in making resolutions.
Elul is the month that leads up to the Jewish new year, and it is the month in which Jews are supposed to be involved in the process of cheshbon ha-nefesh, an accounting of the soul â€“ our spiritual preparation for the new year. It is a time to look inside of ourselves and engage in the process of teshuvah. Teshuvah is usually translated as “repentance” but it literally means “turning” â€“ we seek to turn toward wholeness in our relationships with others in our lives, with God and with our true selves.
When I make my resolutions in the month of Elul (this year Elul occurs from August 7 â€“ September 4), unlike in December, my resolutions arenâ€™t about being thinner, healthier, wealthier and happier (not that I would mind any of those things!). Instead, I make resolutions about how I will relate to my family, friends and community and how I will engage in the world. I contemplate not just my physical wellbeing, but more important, my spiritual wellbeing.
One of the great things about the process of cheshbon ha-nefesh is that itâ€™s something that everyone can do, regardless of their own faith tradition or lack thereof. (I donâ€™t know of any religion or culture that wouldnâ€™t encourage individuals to look inside of themselves and contemplate ways that they can be better people in the year ahead.)
If you are not Jewish, you may or may not be comfortable accompanying your Jewish partner or family to synagogue for the High Holy Days. And you may or may not feel connected to the at-home rituals that are part of these holy days. But you can still find meaning in the process of reflection in which Jews engage at this time of year.
I hope that as the Jewish New Year approaches, all of us will give ourselves the gift of taking time for cheshbon ha-nefesh, for the accounting of our own souls. May we recognize and be grateful for our generosity and goodness; and may we be honest with ourselves about those qualities that we need to improve â€“ and may we seek to do so in the year ahead.
Are you taking time for yourself during the month of Elul to engage in cheshbon ha-nefesh?Â Have you made any resolutions for the year ahead? If so, please share them below.
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