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Wendy Thomas Russell
Wendy Thomas Russell
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I’m one of those people who forgets stuff, especially stuff that’s the least bit complicated or unusual. I’m just challenged that way. To retain much of anything, I have to write it down — and, even then, there’s a shelf-life to my knowledge. I think that’s why I take such copious notes and then keep those notes for pretty much my entire life.
I still have my diary from when I was 12. And even though nothing remotely complicated or unusual is written there, I can report to you that I really, really, really hearted Billy when I was 12. I also hearted Jason when I was 12. And Joel. And Dustin. And then Billy again. And then Dustin again. I was such a whore.
Anyway, the point is I’m bad about remembering lots of things, and religious holidays are among them. As much as I want to remember what they represent, I never do. I keep having to ask over and over and over again. Are you like that? No? I hate you now. Please go away.
For the rest of you, Happy Rosh Hashanah! And now here is a quick cheatsheet for those of you who may want to talk about this important Jewish holiday with the other humans in your life while also coming across as remotely intelligent. Also, and most importantly, other people’s religious holidays are a fantastic way to work religious literacy in your kids’ (or grandkids’) lives. The more we know about each other, the better.
Holiday: Rosh Hashanah
Religion represented: Judaism
Date: The 1st and 2nd of the month of Tishrei in the Hebrew calendar. In 2015, the holiday starts at sunset Sept. 13 and ends at nightfall Sept. 15.
What it is: The Jewish New Year
Not to be confused with: Yom Kippur, which occurs 10 days later.
How important is it?: I asked my friend and former editor Jason Gewirtz. Here’s what he said: “Rosh Hashanah is a big, big deal. It’s the start of the Jewish new year. Yom Kippur the next week is only slightly bigger. [On a scale of 1 to 10], I’d say Rosh Hashanah is a 9.5 and Yom Kippur a 10. There’s nothing bigger than the two of them. They’re tied to each other. The period in between is supposed to be a time of mending any fences, if you will, and reflecting on things that can be improved from the previous year… It’s said that on Rosh Hashanah, you’ll either be written in or out of the Book of Life for the coming year. But on Yom Kippur, the book is sealed, meaning you’ve got that time in between to screw up or make your righteousness known.”
The good stuff: Foodwise, this holiday is associated with apples and honey (symbolizing a sweet new year), as well as pomegranates and challah (braided bread). Also, in lieu of stupid hats and tasseled squawkers, celebrants sport the traditional yarmulke and blow a cool-looking horn called a shofar.
Conveying meaning to kids: At dinner [a few years ago], I explained to my daughter that Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is a time for reflecting on your life and challenging yourself to become a better human being. I served apples and pomegranates and asked Maxine to come up with one way that she might improve. Coincidentally, she had been reprimanded for “being silly” in her kindergarten class that morning, so her idea of self-improvement was to better follow her teacher’s instructions. I said my own resolution would be to spend less time looking at my phone. (Then on Yom Kippur, we checked in with each other about how well we did. The results? Well, a bit meh on both accounts. Luckily, we’re not religious…) As for children’s books, I recommend “Celebrate: A Book of Jewish Holidays” by Judi Gross and Bari Weissman.
So there you go. Rosh Hashanah. Hope you enjoyed it. And don’t worry. I’ll run this blog again next year. By then, I will have long since forgotten everything I just wrote.
Wendy Thomas Russell is an award-winning journalist and co-author of the "ParentShift: Ten Universal Truths That Will Change the Way You Raise Your Kids." She lives in Long Beach, California, with her husband and daughter.
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