In the words of Death Cab for Cutie: So this is the new year.
Wednesday evening, as the sun went down, I couldn’t help but hear the holiday-themed hum in the back of my mind. Sure, it’s not January 1; it’s September 8, but on the Jewish calendar it’s the High Holy Day of Rash Hashana — the first day of the year.
I’ve mentioned before that I married into a family who celebrates all the major Jewish holidays. We observe whatever holidays Christ observed while on Earth.
Who wouldn’t want more holidays in their year? Who would say, no, thank you, I have enough feasting and togetherness in my life?
In my limited years of celebrating I have learned that many of the Holy Days are, how should I say…somber. Yes, there is always eating and togetherness, but there is also internal reflection, sacrifice, and repentance.
Rosh Hashana, however, is a hope-filled, joyful entry into fall. It’s a celebration; apples are dipped in honey to remind us of God’s sweetness. I can’t think of a happier autumn act.
“Shanah Tova” is Hebrew for “a good year”. I always feel like a bit of a fraud when I say it, as though Jews around the world are cringing as it comes out of my Christian mouth. This is why I tend to stick with “Happy New Year,” lest I offend.
This Holy Day, also known as the Day of Remembrance, is about remembering the Lord’s kindness before embarking on a ten-day journey of repentance ending on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
I asked my father-in-love to break this down for me — what’s involved in ten days of repentance? He explained that you not only repent to God, but you fix all of your broken relationships on Earth. You make amends with everyone before Yom Kippur.
And there’s a bonus: you tithe generously to immediate family members. Of course he had no sooner said this then we around the table started looking at him like he was about to whip out the checkbook. Unfortunately, he did not. Apparently it’s not just parents to kids; I think I stopped listening when I realized it might be me that has to tithe. (Judge all you want, but like you would have jumped in, eager pay your sibling 10% of your income? Right.)
Traditionally during this dinner we would blow the shofar (ram’s horn), which is supposed to be blown each morning as a reminder that we are in a period of reflection and repentance.
We don’t blow it each morning, however. We live in a condo building. I’m not sure what we would say to the neighbor knocking on our door at 7AM, angry at the noise. “Oh that? That’s just our ram horn.”
What’s most incredible about gathering with the Rephs for these holidays is that the ritual and regard serves to move us all into a different state of mind. Around that table, it’s as if we have pressed the elevator button for “Penthouse” because we move so much higher than our normal head space. From that height we press our heads against the glass windows of the room and look down at the things of our lives: the decisions, the hurts, the exclamations, the minutia. It’s much easier, from that standpoint, to examine with our binoculars what is worth focusing on.
I am mesmerized by my in-loves perspectives on faith and life. My father-in-love can explain his thoughts on the Lord using scripture passages from memory, but he does so in an approachable way, not a scholarly snooze-fest. My mother-in-love has such a grasp on faith in its truest sense; on what it is to wait for God’s direction.
All of our talks are peppered with Rachel’s and my persistent questions that force the theology to be tangible. Neither of us is really satisfied by platitudes (not that any are necessarily offered at the table) and we insist on being taken seriously. Lucky for us, everyone else around the table allows for this. We always walk away with more to think about then when we began the meal.
And the meal is central, no doubt. I don’t think there would be the conversation if it weren’t for the plentiful steaming dishes being passed between us.
I am overwhelmed by this heartfelt exchange with each passing Holy Day. Though it is an apt reminder of God’s kindness, I find that it specifically reminds me of His kindness in providing this family for me, even though I already had a fantastic family. Some of my girlfriends have married into less-than-ideal in-law situations, and each breaking of bread in the Reph clan reminds me that they are second to none.