This year my family will celebrate Rosh Hashanah in the same way we have for the past four years since moving to Dallas, by sharing holiday dinner with friends and then going to the Young Families Service at our temple the following day. While this routine is always enjoyable, I thought this year it might be time to get more creative with our New Year celebration.
So in addition to the usual, my family will observe the second day of Rosh Hashanah for the first time. It will not only be the inaugural observance for my son and my husband who isn’t Jewish, but mine as well. We are not going to celebrate the second day in the traditional way by attending services. Rather, we are going to host a Jewish New Year party for our friends and their families including games and holiday crafts for the kids, and apple and honey-themed treats for all.
For example, I saved some plastic apple cases from Costco for the children to use in an apple bean-bag toss. We’re going to do a floating apple grab–we’ll use Nabber Grabbers to create a more kid-safe version of bobbing for apples. I have made a Pin the Wing on the Bee game. I have some Rosh Hashanah-themed coloring pages, and I plan two more open-ended creative activities: Design Your Own Apple Tree, with tissue paper, stickers and markers, and some cookie decorating. The food will be potluck to keep things fun, informal and kid-friendly.
How did I decide our Rosh Hashanah observance needed to have a good dose of fun? It was not because I had creative holiday celebrations as a child. Growing up in New Jersey, the High Holy Days meant three things: new clothes, long mornings at temple and family dinners.
As a young adult I told my mother I was going to celebrate Rosh Hashanah with a boyfriend and his family, and that I would spend Yom Kippur with her. She complained, “why don’t I get you for the joyous holiday?” I knew that the Jewish New Year was supposed to be the more joyful holiday, but I never thought of it that way because nothing really celebratory made it stand apart from Yom Kippur, except that on Rosh Hashanah, you did not need to fast.
In addition, I had a solemn image of Rosh Hashanah, partly derived from the concept of the Book of Life. As a child I thought there was a real book and I feared that I was in danger of not being inscribed for another year. Even as a teen, when I knew that the Book of Life was more a metaphor, part of me still feared that this might be the year that I was left out.
As I’ve matured, my appreciation and understanding of the holidays has changed. Recently, I’ve come to view Rosh Hashanah in much the same way as I view the secular New Year–a time to celebrate a new beginning, but also a time to reflect on the past year and make resolutions about things we’d like to change, do more of or improve upon. The biggest difference between the two New Year celebrations is that the secular New Year seems to have equal, if not more, emphasis on the celebratory aspect of the holiday.
This idea of the similarities between Rosh Hashanah and New Years made me think about our upcoming holiday plans. Why not truly celebrate the joyous aspect of the holiday by hosting a Jewish New Year’s party in addition to the traditional holiday meal?
After thinking about how I want my son to view Judaism, I decided to propose the idea of a potluck Jewish New Year’s party to my husband. I was not sure how he would respond, but remembered that in the past he has shared that his childhood memories of church were much the same as mine of synagogue: more serious than fun. He thought the party idea sounded great.
My husband and I share the feeling that it is important to make the holidays and Judaism fun in order for our son to develop a strong connection to the Jewish faith. I only need to look at my own extended family to see what a lack of enjoyable religious experiences can do to a person’s desire to continue to be observant when they reach adulthood. My Jewish stepbrother, who is married to a Jew, observes the holidays out of obligation and not because he derives any fulfillment from the experience.
I believe that adding fun to the holidays now can make the celebrations more memorable, without diminishing their significance. This can be especially important for an interfaith family. By creating positive Jewish experiences year-round, we can avoid feeling the need to pack a full year’s worth of Jewish identity building into one December holiday.
The goal of our Jewish New Year’s party is to create happy memories not just for our family, but for our friends as well. I hope that by doing something to celebrate the holiday in a slightly different way that my son will, overtime, develop a strong connection to Judaism that will be the foundation of observance later in life. I am hopeful that he will associate observance with fun and enjoyment, and as an adult, fulfillment, rather than obligation. In addition, the more light-hearted aspect of the celebration is an easy way for my husband to connect and participate in the holiday.
We are excited about our holiday plans. With the evite sent, and the games and crafts planned, all there is left to do is wish our friends L’Shana Tovah when they arrive.