2017-09-13 / Columns

A Rosh Hashanah toast to our family and to everyone: ‘L’chaim, to life!’


Our oldest daughter and her husband will be late because Jill and Jeff always are. And always for good reasons, I must admit—including seeing to the endless schlepping they do for us of bridge chairs, extra serving plates and Jill’s spectacular holiday side dishes.

Nancy, still the “baby” at 50, will be quietly cleaning up her mother’s messes because Nancy actually adores making order out of chaos. It comes with the territory: She is the mother of three active (I will not say “wild”) boys.

Amy, the quixotic “middle child” with the high-flying Manhattan career, will be in the final throes of debating between two funky dresses, and will ultimately choose the funkier one. She will be assigned the chore of arranging the food on platters, because of all of us, Amy is the only one with artistic instincts.

In the midst of the joyous bedlam of the Jewish High Holy Days, we will all run true to form. And because we are family— flawed, complicated, neurotic and loving—we can predict one another’s form with remarkable accuracy.

The Jewish New Year is one of those times when family always seems essential, primary and comforting. I cannot imagine how it would be to spend this holiday alone, although I know that there are those who must and do.

Even as we reflect on our humanness, our frailties, the mistakes we can never correct and the failures we have accumulated— even as we pray for forgiveness and insight—family is with us to comfort and heal us.

These are the people we want around us in the synagogue and at the holiday table because they are our homeland. These are the people who make us feel welcome and loved, no matter what.

For our family, the High Holy Days are a time for a noisy, complicated gathering of the clan, a pause in the mayhem, a blip on the time line, and surely a glorious chance to celebrate a heritage stained by blood, bound by tears, and still triumphant.

Some among us will feel a heaviness of heart because the year now slipping away on the Jewish calendar has been scarred by personal losses and renunciations. And no family is exempt from those.

But there always comes the moment, at least for me, when all the frenzy of preparation is done and we gather around the table, three generations of us. And suddenly, it is crystal clear why no amount of effort is too great for this clan.

At our own Rosh Hashanah table this year, there will be a wonderful assortment of guests, not all kin. Two of our holiday guests were not born in this country. Two are new friends who have so enriched our lives that it’s hard to believe that we didn’t know them just a few years ago.

And that realization, perhaps, is part of the astonishment of ritual: While we repeat our traditions if only for their sheer emotional pull, the cast of characters ebbs and flows a bit.

I will feel that same inevitable rush of sadness that my parents and my husband’s are not with us. No matter how many years pass, the New Year is always diminished without those faces and voices.

I will wish, once again, that they had lived longer. Never enough time…

But I will rejoice that this year, unlike others, our “immediates” will all be with us.

As always, my sister will undoubtedly insist on a slightly feminist tilt to our table conversation, and everyone in this opinionated bunch will need to talk of politics—and with vigor. Especially this year.

Somewhere in the midst of the mayhem, someone will undoubtedly spill the sweet red wine, leaving imprints of Rosh Hashanah 5778 that no amount of stain-removal will eradicate completely. Those tiny splotches, which probably should bother me, really don’t. They seem a sweet reminder of our humanness.

Within this remarkable circle nothing—and everything—is sacred.

Before we part, we will have laughed, possibly cried a little, and celebrated the quirky traditions that are our own touchstones to this holiday.

By the end of our celebration, when our guests are starting to leave and the mountains of dishes loom larger than life in the kitchen, I will probably turn to my husband to say, without words, “Well, another year.”

And he will understand all the gratitude and hope and memory enclosed within that look, and why I had tears in my eyes when he proposed that most glorious of all toasts, the one that never changes, as we raised our glasses at the High Holy Day table this September:

“L’chaim: To Life.”


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