2018-08-29 / Columns

Celebrating what is really important at the High Holy Days


It might as well have been etched in stone.

Holidays in the Friedman family were a done deal: Rosh Hashanah, absolutely Mom and Dad. Thanksgiving, Jill. New Year’s Eve, Nancy. Passover, Amy.

And then— after months of agonizing—indecision and then more of it, my husband and I did it. We moved to what is now known as a CCRC— a Continuing Care Retirement Community.

And suddenly, everything changed.

Our life arrived in endless cartons to our new address. The china didn’t quite fit in the buffet, so some was parceled out to our daughters. Our dining room table came with us, but the leaves that expanded it didn’t quite stretch it to its old grandeur. And a few of our once-numerous antique dining room chairs ended up in storage.

The phone call came in late summer from Jill, the oldest daughter, who serves as ambassador of diplomacy.

It seemed that she and her sisters felt it was time to broach the subject of the High Holy Days—and the family dinner.

Our custom was inviolate: From time immemorial, the Rosh Hashanah, post-synagogue feast was always ours to host. It just was. No questions asked.

That conversation will forever remain in the annals of family history.

Jill, Amy and Nancy and their respective husbands had quite logically figured out that there was no way 16 normal-sized people could fit into the dining area—not a full dining room—of our apartment.

While our space was perfectly fine for smaller occasions of state, they assured us, The High holy Days were of a different order.

Initially, I argued and pleaded my case.

We absolutely could do it with bridge chairs, lots of help with setting up, and a total cooperative effort with the menu. Yes, it was doable.

And then those daughters and sons-in-law took on a new tone. While they respected and loved our tradition—while they even loved our new space—they had looked at the logistics intelligently, carefully, and with the clear foresight that this change would not be easy for us, they truly believed the time had come…

Change, in the life of a family, can be wrenching. Painful. Deeply unsettling.

And this one was—at least for the first week.

NOT to have the familiar, much-loved rituals replayed? Not to replay every last tradition in our home, and yes, on our lace tablecloths yoked together to cover that table that had been with us for as long as we’d been married?

So many “nots” crashing down around us.

And then we slowly came to our senses.

The kitchen in our new digs was small. So was the oven. So was the fridge.

Our energy, post-move, was—well, still compromised. Ask anyone who’s moved less than six months ago, and the word “exhausting” will come to the fore.

So it’s been decreed: The High Holy Day feast will be at daughter Nancy’s big old house in North Jersey. Her sisters will help her. Everyone will have an assignment and fulfill it with due diligence.

Break-the-fast will be at Jill’s, as always.

And Mom and Dad will discover that despite decades of family tradition, life allows for new traditions. Change can even be exhilarating, we were reminded.

So yes this pre-holiday season is vastly different from other years. No shopping lists as long as a giant’s arm. No scrambling to make the house perfect.

And yes, many moments of realizing that time is a thief, and that this change has come a bit too soon emotionally. But then, when would we ever have been ready to pass the torch?

And there’s good news too.

My late mother’s chicken soup will be made by me. My husband will, as always, speak to us about the true meaning of this holiday, and do it with heart and feeling.

And with a little luck, we will gather together, an American Jewish family, to celebrate again what really matters: A Jewish New Year spent with one another as proud Jews in the glorious embrace of family.

And where that happens, we now understand, is merely a detail. 


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