This period starts with Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year, and includes Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement, followed in quick succession by two more important Jewish holidays: Sukkot, a Harvest Festival, and Simchat Torah, when the yearly reading of the Torah Scroll is ended and begun again.
This year, the start of school practically coincides with this very busy time. My sons started school Tuesday, had a full day Wednesday and then have Thursday and Friday off for Rosh HaShanah. As I write this blog Wednesday afternoon, I'm not quite sure how I'm going to get a traditional dinner, complete with chicken soup with matzoh balls and brisket, on the table tonight, before we have to be at synagogue at 7:30 (Thanks goodness my 90-year-old Mom and my sister-in-law are helping with the cooking!), but I know that it will get done. Because I feel gathering family together for this – and any holiday – no matter what your faith – is one of the most important gifts parents can give their children.
Certain traditions will be carried out at our table. We'll light candles and I'll recite the same blessings that my mother did when the holiday table was in her home. We'll bless cups of very sweet wine and a special round Challah bread with the same prayers used for thousands of years. We'll dip apples into honey, to signify our wish for a sweet new year. And then we'll eat my Mom's matzoh balls (she'll love the fact that her grandsons will ask for seconds, and maybe thirds). We'll tell stories about the year my matzoh balls came out as hard as rocks. We'll argue about whether the soup is too salty. My brother in California will call at the exact moment we start we eat – to hear the menu and wish us all a Happy New Year.
And yet this year, some things will be different as well. My oldest son has invited his girlfriend to dinner and services with us. Next year, he will likely be away at college and may not be joining us at all. My middle son and nephew are now (as of yesterday) high-schoolers for the first time. And although we won't discuss it, we'll all be acutely aware that with Mom about to turn to 90 and Dad already 92, we're all amazed and blessed that they've made it share another year with all of us.
Having these important holidays at the start of the school year can be hectic. Squeezing in dinners and trips to synagogue between School Meet-the-Teacher night and Flag Football tryouts is always a challenge. But this is also a great time of year to reflect on the year that has ended and the new one about to begin. And to take some time in prayer, or meditation, or whatever feels right to you, to be thankful for the blessings we have, especially the blessing of having family around us to share it all with.
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