Celebrity news from Hollywood including an interview with Maggie Gyllenhaal, and an update on Adam Levine and Behati Prinsloo.Go To Pop Culture
I always laugh when people say â€śthe High Holy Days are early this yearâ€ť or â€śRosh Hashanah is late this year.â€ť The fact is that Rosh Hashanah occurs the same time every yearâ€”on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. Itâ€™s never really â€śearlyâ€ť or â€ślateâ€ťâ€”itâ€™s just where it should be! That being said, the first of Tishrei can be as early as September 5, or as late as October 5, on the Gregorian calendar. Which means that in 2014, when the first day of Rosh Hashanah is September 25(not the same week as Labor Day, as it was in 2013) many of us feel like we have more time to prepare for Rosh Hashanah than we did last year.
Here are seven suggestions for how your family can have fun getting in the mood for Rosh Hashanah:
1)Â Â Â Â Â Apples, apples and more apples: Itâ€™s fun to dip apples in honey on Rosh Hashanah as we wish for a sweet new year. But why just go to a grocery store and buy apples? One of my favorite activities to do with my family before the Jewish New Year is to go apple picking. At the orchard we go to, we take a hay ride out to the apple trees and then we fill our boxes with different kinds of apples. Later we come home and make a yummy apple cake for our Rosh Hashanah dinner and drink apple cider.
Did you ever notice that if you cut an apple right down the middle you see a star? Thereâ€™s a great Rosh Hashanah story about this thatâ€™s fun for kids of all ages. I like the way Shira Kline tells the story on her website.
2)Â Â Â Â Â And donâ€™t forget the honey: At the orchard where we go apple picking, thereâ€™s a really fun general store where they sell all kinds of fresh produce and delicious treats. They also sell those cool honey straws that come in all different flavors. Each year I let my kids buy a bunch of different flavored honey straws and we use them on Rosh Hashanah. Theyâ€™re fun to give out to guests (or to take if we go to someone elseâ€™s house for a holiday meal).
As you prepare for Rosh Hashanah and start to think about dipping your apples in honey, itâ€™s a great time to talk to your kids about how bees make honey. To learn about this from a dad who did some research after he couldnâ€™t answer his daughterâ€™s question about how bees make honey, check out Matt Shipmanâ€™s article How Do Bees Make Honey? (Itâ€™s Not Just Bee Barf). Or better yet, visit a beekeeper and learn about how honeyâ€™s made from an expert!
You can have lots of fun making beeswax candles to light as you welcome the holiday. For instructions on how to make your own beeswax candles click here.
3)Â Â Â Â Â Try some new fruits, too: Thereâ€™s a great custom on the second night of Rosh Hashanah of eating a new fruit of the season; one you havenâ€™t eaten yet this year. So you may want to pick another fruit as well if you can while youâ€™re apple picking, or pick up a different fruit at a farmerâ€™s market or the grocery store. Itâ€™s traditional to recite the Shehecheyanu blessing before eating the new fruit.
4)Â Â Â Â Â Mark a round challah: What kid (or adult) doesnâ€™t love mixing the ingredients, kneading the dough and shaping it into a challah? While on Shabbat itâ€™s traditional to have a braided challah, on Rosh Hashanah the challah should be round. Why round? Because it reminds us of the circle of life, as well as the cyclical nature of the passage of a year. For a YouTube video teaching three different ways to make a round challah, click hereÂ and get Rabbi Mychal Copelandâ€™s recipe here.
5)Â Â Â Â Â Read Rosh Hashanah stories with your kids: Itâ€™s always fun in the weeks leading up to any holiday, religious or secular, to read books with your kids about the holiday. One Jewish grandmother I know takes out all of her childrenâ€™s books about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur a few weeks before the holidays and puts them in a big basket that she keeps in her family room. Whenever her grandchildren come over, they pick out books from the basket to read with her. She does this before Passover, Sukkot and Thanksgiving, too, so that the book basket is often out and filled with Jewish or secular holiday books to read. For a list of PJ Library Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur books for kids up to 8 yearsold click here.
6)Â Â Â Â Â Make New Years cards: In todayâ€™s world where we do so much of our communicating by text and email, itâ€™s especially fun to get a card in the mailbox. And itâ€™s even more fun to make cards! Get out lots of craft materials (or even just crayons and paper) and let your kids make New Years cards that they can mail to family members and friends. And they donâ€™t have to make the cards just for Jewish family members. Cards for family member who arenâ€™t Jewish, letting them know that theyâ€™re being thought of and that theyâ€™re loved, will surely be appreciated any time of year.
7)Â Â Â Â Â Buy a Shofar and learn to blow it: Kids are always fascinated by the Shofar. Many synagogue gift shops sell Shofars, as do Judaica stores. You can also purchase them online. Once you have a Shofar, you can learn about the notes that are blown on Rosh Hashanah. For video instructions on how to blow the shofar, including the three traditional ritual blasts for the High Holy Days: tekiyah, shevarim and truah, click here.
Shana Tova Uâ€™Metukah. Have a happy and a sweet new year!
Is there something new youâ€™re planning to do with your family in preparation for Rosh Hashanah this year? Are there activities youâ€™ve done in the past that were fun? Please share your ideas below so that others can learn from what youâ€™ve done.
Last Friday night, I watched as my kids lit Shabbat candles and said the prayers at our table with my in-laws standing by. My partnerâ€™s parents are not Jewish, and I felt a deep appreciation for them in this moment. When we all met, none of us could have imagined this scene. Nearly two decades ago, I stayed at their home for the first time. My partner and I were graduate students on the East Coast and we headed west to see her folks at their ranch in central Oregon over break. Like many people, Jewish or not, they really arenâ€™t into religion at all. Here we were, a rabbinical student and a PhD candidate in religious studies. We pretty much ate, drank and breathed religion.
I wanted to be careful not to overwhelm them with Jewish talk or Jewish practice. That was tough because I was starting to observe Shabbat and other rituals for the first time. I chose carefully which ones I absolutely had to do. One of my new, favorite Shabbat rituals was baking challah. As Friday morning rolled around, it felt strange not to make it. I started to get the ingredients out, and the implications ran through my mind:
1) This kitchen is going to be really, really messy.
2) Â It would feel weird to me if we ate challah on Friday night without saying the prayer over it.Â But saying it will feel really weird too.
3) Oh noâ€¦it will feel weird to do the prayer over the bread without doing all three Shabbat blessings.Â Now itâ€™s a full ceremony and itâ€™s going to be awkward.
In the end, I did it anyway. The result? Wow, these people love challah. I know most people like it. Whatâ€™s not to like? My recipe includes eggs, flour and tons of sugar and butter which make it more like a Shabbat dessert. Itâ€™s always a crowd pleaser. But I have never seen anyone so overtaken by it. Seeing how excited her parents were and knowing how worried I was about engaging in Jewish ritual in their house, my partner made sure they knew that getting to the challah meant that there would be Jewish prayers at their table. For people who really disagree with religion as a whole, donâ€™t believe in the God we are thanking in these prayers and have no context for the foreign language being spoken at their table, this could have been a huge deal.
Itâ€™s been almost two decades, and Iâ€™m still making challah for my in-laws. Now when we visit, our kids help bake and decorate. We do the entire Shabbat ceremony consisting of all three prayers: lighting candles, saying kiddush over wine and grape juice and the motsi over the challah, my partnerâ€™s parents stand by, knowing that challah is coming.
I am greatly appreciative that my in-laws have been able to witness our familyâ€™s rituals and other religious choices. Clearly, some of these rituals have been easier to stomach than others. My mother-in-law enjoys the challah far more than she did the bris (then again, Iâ€™m with her on that one). Itâ€™s not easy when your kids choose a lifestyle so different from your own. In one sense, I credit the challah. It was one of the first moments when we came together around a Jewish custom, and unlike lots of other Jewish foods that are acquired tastes, challah was the one that could allow them to see into a completely new religious framework and even allow for it to happen at their family table. In a way, itâ€™s just bread. But â€śbreaking breadâ€ť together is also the way people from many cultures have traditionally and symbolically expressed that they can cross a difficult boundary. So maybe itâ€™s no accident that this openness was instigated by a couple of loaves of home-baked bread. But at a deeper level, I credit my in-laws for demonstrating incredible openness to new ideas and most of all, for embracing us. That, and helping me clean the kitchen.
Sweet Egg Bread (Challah)Â
5-6 cups of flour
On Shavuot, Jews celebrate Matan Torah, the Giving of the Torah. If you didnâ€™t grow up Jewish, or even if you did, you may not know much about Shavuot. Although Shavuot is one of the Shelosh Regalim (the three Pilgrimage Festivals), equal in importance to Passover and Sukkot, itâ€™s less commonly celebrated than the other two holidays. Maybe this is because Shavuot doesnâ€™t have a well-known home component, like the Passover Seder (celebrated by more Jews than almost any other Jewish ritual) or the sukkot (huts) some Jews build outside of their homes on Sukkot. Maybe itâ€™s because Shavuot comes at the end of the school year, so even if you have kids in a Jewish preschool, religious school or day school, thereâ€™s not as much time available in the curriculum to focus on Shavuot. Whatever the reason, I for one would love to see a change, and for more people to learn about Shavuot, and celebrate the holiday in meaningful ways.
In that spirit, as Shavuot approaches, I have seven suggestions for how to make the holiday more meaningful. Why seven? Because Shavuot marks the fiftieth day after the start of the counting of the Omer. (We begin counting the Omer, which links Passover to Shavuot, on the second night of Passover.) Shavuot (which means â€śweeksâ€ť in Hebrew) marks the completion of counting seven weeks of seven days.
1. Read the Book of Ruth. Traditionally, the Biblical Book of Ruth is read in synagogues on Shavuot. Ruthâ€™s story is read on this holiday for several reasons:
a. The Book of Ruth describes the harvest season and Shavuot is also known as Hag HaKatsir, the Harvest Festival.
b. On Shavuot, when Jews celebrate Godâ€™s givingâ€”and the Jewish peopleâ€™s acceptingâ€”the Torah, we read of Ruthâ€™s willingly entering into the Jewish faith and thus, according to Jewish understanding, a life of Torah.
c. The end of the Book of Ruth describes the lineage of King David, who is Ruthâ€™s great-grandson. According to Jewish tradition, King David was born and died on Shavuot.
Even if you donâ€™t go to services on Shavuot, you can read and discuss the story of Ruth with family members or friends. Ruth is often celebrated as the first Jew by Choice, but as I argue in my recent blog, I think she really should be celebrated as a woman in an interfaith marriage who helps to ensure the Jewish future.
2. Study the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are traditionally read from the Torah at Shavuot services. Take time to read the Ten Commandments and learn about them. If you have younger kids, your family can decide what Ten Commandments/Rules should be followed in your home. Older kids and adults can discuss how they feel about posting the Ten Commandments in public places such as court houses. Click here to read the position the Anti-Defamation League took on this issue in 2005.
3. Attend a Tikkun Leil Shavuot. Thereâ€™s a wonderful custom of staying up all (or part of) the first night of Shavuot to study Torah. One of my personal favorite Shavuot experiences was when I was living in Jerusalem and I spent all night learning at a Tikkun Leil Shavuot and then at sunrise walked with the rest of the people attending the Tikkun to the Kotel for the morning service.
Look online to see if a synagogue or other Jewish organization near you is having a Tikkun.Â Or host your own Tikkun and invite friends over to study Torah.
4. Make (and eat!) Dairy Foods. Itâ€™s customary to eat dairy foods like cheesecakeÂ and cheese-filled blintzes on Shavuot. Some say that this is because the Bible compares Torah to â€śhoney and milkâ€¦under your tongueâ€ť (Song of Songs 4:11). Another explanation is that when the Israelites received the Torah and learned for the first time the laws for keeping kosher, they didnâ€™t have time right away to prepare kosher meat. In order not to eat meat that wasnâ€™t kosher, they ate dairy. And so, on Shavuot, when the Giving of the Torah is celebrated, many Jews eat dairy in commemoration of how the Israelites ate when they first received the Torah.
In keeping with the tradition of eating dairy on Shavuot, after dinner on Shavuot I like to put out different flavors of ice cream and bowls with all kinds of toppings for everyone in my family to make their own ice cream sundae. My kids love doing thisâ€”and so do I!
5. Bake a Special Challah. Even those familiar with the braided challot for Shabbat and the round challot traditionally eaten on Rosh Hashanah may not be aware of the tradition of having specially shaped challot for Shavuot. This Shavuot, bake a challah in the shape of the Ten Commandments, as mentioned above, or in the shape of a Heavenly Ladder, a Torah or Mount Sinai (where God gave the Torah to Moses). To learn how to make these challot click here.
6. If You Have Young Children, Read Books Related to Shavuot: Check out PJ Library for a list of Shavuot books.
7. Attend a Shavuot Service. In Israel and most Reform and Reconstructionist congregations outside of Israel, Shavuot is observed for one day. In Orthodox and most Conservative congregations outside of Israel, Shavuot is observed for two days. In many congregations, Confirmation (a group ceremony, generally at the end of tenth grade, celebrating the completion of a religious curriculum) is celebrated on Shavuot. Not only is Shavuot near the end of the school year, but the association of Shavuot with the Giving of Torah is thematically connected to the study of Torah acknowledged at Confirmation as well as the idea of students committing themselves to a life of Torah. You can look at the websites of local synagogues to find out when their Shavuot services are being held.
Chag Sameach! Have a happy holiday!
What memories do you have of growing up? How did your family celebrate holidays?
My favorite holiday has always been Passover. While I was growing up, my parents hosted the Passover Seder for the extended family. Weâ€™d add tables, outgrowing the dining room and â€śkidsâ€™ tableâ€ť until we had a series of three tables spanning the dining room, entry way and into the living room. My aunts, uncles and cousins would all come to our house for a few days and weâ€™d celebrate Passover.
Living in Northern California, we did not have an abundance of kosher-for-Passover options. Luckily, my aunts would buy out all the markets in Los Angeles and bring delicacies with them that would last throughout the week of Passover.
After the crowds left, my mom would make matzo meal pancakes. Light and fluffy, made mostly of egg whites and air, they were my favorite (probably because I ate them with tablespoons of white sugar on top).
It wasn’t until a month ago that I learned where the matzo meal pancake recipe came from. I should have known that my momâ€™s mom was not the source. My grandmother was raised Mormon and converted to Judaism before marrying my grandfather. They raised three wonderful Jewish children and always had a Jewish household (see nature vs. nurture).
During summer break, while my mother was in high school, she traveled to Indianapolis to visit my father for a weekend while he was working there for the summer. At that time, not yet married, it was not â€śappropriateâ€ť for them to stay under the same roof, so while he was living with his cousins, my mother stayed with my fatherâ€™s grandmother.
One morning, my great-grandmother made the pancakes for my mom. Mom immediately fell in love with them. My great-grandmotherâ€™s recipe has been a family treasure ever since.
InterfaithFamily is here to help families discover long-lost family recipes and traditions, to create your own traditions and to help you explore what aspects of Judaism you want to incorporate into your lives as you create new traditions for your family.
In the Bay Area, newlyweds and nearly-wedded couples can begin this process by joining us for our Love and Religion â€“ Online workshop which begins July 29.