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By Jessica Melwani
Today, my family is ringing in the New Year for the fourth time in 2017.
In January, we reveled with champagne and caviar.
In February, we received homemade turnip cakes andÂ lai seeâ€”festive, cash-filled red envelopes customary for the Chinese New Yearâ€”from my husbandâ€™s 97-year-old Chinese nanny, who also raised my Indian mother-in-law in Hong Kong and is now our surrogate grandmother.
In September, we ate apples and honey, and cheered as my 2-year-old greeted my parents with a joyous, â€śShana tova,â€ť a phrase he brought home from his Jewish nursery school.
And finally, today we celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. We are marking the triumph of good over evil in spiritual lore, the unofficial start of another new year. Weâ€™ll sayÂ puja,Â or prayers, around the houseâ€”particularly in my home office, to appeal for a prosperous year. And weâ€™ll accept my mother-in-lawâ€™s annual deliveryâ€”an aromatic, seven-vegetable curryâ€”along with her challenge to guess the mystery produce, which typically ranges from run-of-the-mill potatoes to exotic (but easily identifiable) lotus root.
Until this year, it never even occurred to me that four celebrations to observe one phenomenonâ€”the passage of timeâ€”could be considered, well, a lot. And itâ€™s kind of confusing to boot, especially for my 5-year-old, whose birthday just happens to fall on January 1st.
It took a while to convince Baby New Year that the noisemakers and fireworks from the rest of the world didnâ€™t herald the auspicious occasion of his birth. I thought we were good once he accepted that, but this yearâ€™s multiple New Year celebrations threw him for a loop.
Admittedly, when he asked how there could be four new years in a single one, I went about the discussion all wrong. I started explaining the scientific concept of timeâ€”how it takes the earth 365 days to orbit the sun, and how different cultures developed their own calendars to mark each dayâ€™s passage thousands of years ago. That didnâ€™t go over so well.
â€śBut doesnâ€™t the earth orbit the sun at the same speed everywhere in the world? Why would people end up with different calendars and different New Years?â€ť he asked.
Ummm, did I just get schooled in astronomy by a 5-year-old?
Clearly, I was incapable of delivering a cogent, scientific argument to a kindergartener and needed to consider the emotional caseâ€”what our various New Year celebrations meant to me, personallyâ€”before I could convince him they werenâ€™t all redundant to his â€śdouble special dayâ€ť on January 1st.
So, for the first time in a while, I paused to really think. I stopped packing lunches and paying bills and punching away at emails on my phone to sit down and reflect on how lucky my family is to usher in four new beginnings over the same 365-day period.
Iâ€™ve given up on as many New Yearâ€™s resolutions as Iâ€™ve made, every year another failed attempt at meeting some arbitrary metric: lose five pounds, meditate for 10 minutes a day, keep my inbox at zero. But what if having a New Yearâ€™s celebration every few months meant we didnâ€™tÂ haveÂ to make resolutions at all anymore?
What if we took the start of each cultural calendar year as an opportunity to set smaller goals and take stock of all the little victories weâ€™d ordinarily overlook?
What if I spent some time during the Rosh Hashanah school break talking to my kids about what weâ€™d done over the past couple of weeks to be kind, and what we could do in the days before Diwali to be even more thoughtful or caring?
What if, during Diwali, we considered all the new and interesting experiences weâ€™d had since Rosh Hashanah, and brainstormed other cool things we wanted to try before New Yearâ€™s Day?
And what if, on January 1st (after blowing out my sonâ€™s birthday candles, of course), we considered what weâ€™d done since Diwali to make ourselves proud, and what we could maybe try harder at before collecting our little red envelopes for Chinese New Year?
What if these four calendarsâ€”my familyâ€™s multicultural forcing mechanismâ€”reminded us to be both grateful and excited for all the small things we experience every day?
In the course of our busy lives, we too rarely take the time to reflect on the mini-milestones of the recent past or contemplate those that lie just within reach. But Iâ€™ve got four opportunities on my 2018 calendar to help me do just that, and I plan to use this new approach to explain the relationship between them to my kids.
How lucky for me that those opportunities just happen to involve bubbly champagne, crispy turnip cakes, sweet apples and fragrant curry.
This article was reprinted with permission fromÂ Kveller.com, a fast-growing, award-winning website for parents raising Jewish and interfaith kids.Â Follow Kveller on FacebookÂ andÂ sign up for their newsletters here.
My middle name is Miriam. I am named after Mark, my motherâ€™s brother who was killed at the young age of 39. My name is a remembrance of him just as my daughterâ€™s name is a reminder of my two Grandmothers, Helen and Rose. Names have great meaning and what someone is named at birth doesnâ€™t necessarily determine who they are, but it does hold potential.
One of this monthâ€™s Torah portions just happens to be called â€śChukat,â€ť meaning â€śdecree.â€ť It is one of my favorite portions because it is about the death of Miriam (Mosesâ€™s sister) and how the death of a single woman affects an entire people and their future.
When Miriam dies, water becomes scarce. Moses cannot deal with his sisterâ€™s death and sees the people of Israel angered at him and Aaron for bringing them to a barren land. God commands Moses to speak to a rock and ask for water. Saddened by the death of his sister and vexed at his people for their lack of grief, Moses makes a mistake. Instead of speaking to the stone he strikes it. It is an act that does not go unnoticed. Because of this err on Mosesâ€™ part, God refuses to let him lead the Jews into the Promised Land. The death of Miriam means the death of water, purity and a loss of control for a great prophet. Even Moses fears death or is stifled by it. Then, before this Torah portion comes to a close, Aaron dies as well.
The name Miriam in Hebrew means rebelliousâ€”fitting that I should be named after my Uncle Mark, who was the rebel in our family history just as I am. Some of my family members will tell you I am still the rebellious one living with and loving a man from Mexico who was born Catholic, raising our child in an interfaith household. But water followed Miriam everywhere. It followed her through the desert during her peopleâ€™s hardest times. I have chosen to live my life as she lived hersâ€”with a magical well that never runs dry with room enough for different faiths, cultures and beliefs.
Whatâ€™s funny is that the man I chose to spend my life with is named Adrian andÂ his name is from the Latin root meaning â€śseaâ€ť or â€śwater.â€ť My middle name and his first name flow like rivers next to each other, intertwining like our two faiths.
Helen, our almost 2-year-old has a name derived from the Greeks. Who hasnâ€™t heard of Helen of Troy? Her name in Greek means â€śShining Lightâ€ť or â€śThe Bright One.â€ť This seems appropriate, that two bodies of water can create a spark, something beautiful and different that never fades.
I like the â€śChukatâ€ť Torah portion because it is not about Judaism specifically; it is about doubt and faith. The Israelites doubt Moses and Aaron and so God is angered. Moses is grieving and loses control, because of this he suffers and dies without being permitted to enter into the Holy Land. It is a lesson not only for Jews but for anyone because it is about having faith in your own journey. The Israelites lose faith because the water disappears after Miriamâ€™s death. Moses loses faith in his people. God is angered most by Mosesâ€™ loss of control. On so long a journey Moses does not trust and strikes the very rock that was to give him and his people sustenance. But I see that rock as a symbol of Miriam. Although she is gone, perhaps her spirit is in that rock, but Moses is too blind to see it. For this, he is punished.
Often it is a challenge to navigate an interfaith household. During certain times of the year it seems as though we have a different holiday every month. Traditions are hard to keep up, or are tweaked so that they can fit both religions and both cultures. Our budget for gifts on holidays has to stretch so that Santa Claus, the Three Kings and a menorah can all fit in the living room. But we try never to strike the stone, to curse the place where the water will naturally flow if given time and care.
Thatâ€™s what Godâ€™s decree is in the â€śChukatâ€ť portion. He desires that we keep going even when the world seems to rise up against us and deem us rebellious. He asks us to speak to the stone, not strike it so that we may learn from the world how cool water can follow us through the desert when we feel we are making a new, different and enlightening journey toward faith.