The change was subtle but undeniable. Carrots cut lengthwise rather than sliced; some scattered sprigs of rosemary. Any other day of the year, such a discrete rift in recipe might have gone unnoticed. But this was not any other day of the year — this was Rosh Hashanah.
“What’s up with the brisket, Grandma?” my preteen son asked, echoing my suspicions that Bubbe’s famous brisket — the eternal pillar of my family’s High Holiday feasts — had undergone an unprecedented facelift.
“I thought I’d try something a little different this year,” answered my mother (who had recently been possessed by Rachael Ray of the Food Network).
“But I like the old brisket,” said my younger son.
“Me, too!” agreed my daughter.
“Oh, no. Not the brisket!” added the eldest of my grumbling foursome.
“Shh, I’m sure it’s delicious,” I said, trying to mask my own disappointment in the demise of the dish of honor.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that my kids and I didn’t appreciate the wonderful meal my mother had prepared. (We did.) And it’s not that the updated version of Bubbe’s famous recipe wasn’t a legitimate improvement over the original. (It was.) It’s just that it didn’t matter whether Rachael Ray herself had prepared that brisket — it wasn’t about taste at all.
In fact, prior to that particular evening, my children had scarcely given our traditional Rosh Hashanah brisket a second thought. It was not until it went MIA — and was suddenly replaced with a swankier roast — that my kids came to appreciate its significance in their lives.
Please, you may be thinking. How can you possibly suggest that a brisket could have a significant impact on someone’s life?
But it wasn’t just any old brisket; it was Bubbe’s famous brisket. The same unwavering recipe that had accompanied my family’s Jewish New Year for as long as my children could remember — for as long as I could remember. In the predictable presence of Bubbe’s brisket on our Rosh Hashanah table, my children found steady ground; a sturdy link between their past, present and future; and a safety net woven out of knowing where they have been and where they are going.
No, I’m not being melodramatic. Oodles of experts believe that it is in the simple repetitions of life — not in the grand black-tie affairs — that our children find the stability and continuity they need to thrive in an unpredictable world. That it is ritual and tradition — not kiddie stress management seminars or pintsized yoga classes — that builds a vital sense of emotional security in our kids.
Of course, if you asked Tevye the milkman, the power of tradition is not breaking news. Yet, in our rocket-paced, technology-based, achievement-driven, media-ridden society, the presence of family rituals in our children’s lives may be more integral to their emotional well being than ever before.
Fortunately, Jewish life is positively bursting at the seams with ritual opportunity for parents: Lighting the Hanukkah candles, welcoming Elijah to our seder table, eating challah on Shabbat — all these experiences fill our children’s lives with spirituality, security and predictability. Yet the defining rituals of the Jewish New Year play an especially vital role in our children’s overall well being, as they also carry meaningful symbolism and essential life lessons.
What follows are a few of our rich Rosh Hashanah traditions and the ways they strengthen and prepare our children for the coming year—and far beyond. To help ensure your family enjoys all the sweet rewards of the Jewish New Year (while simultaneously taking advantage of the bountiful benefits of family rituals), here are some out-of-the-box, ripe-for-the-picking Rosh Hashanah traditions:
1. Visit a paint-it-yourself ceramic shop, and decorate kiddush cups, apple plates or honey bowls together.
2. Put together baskets of apples, honey, raisins and other sweet treats, and deliver them as a family to a hospital or nursing home.
3. Give the world a birthday present by planting a tree. (You’ll have a whole Rosh Hashanah grove before long!)
4. Let your kids design your Rosh Hashanah tablecloths, placemats and challah covers using fabric crayons or markers.
5. Take a Rosh Hashanah family nature hike. Sit down in a shady spot and have everyone share what he or she appreciates about one another.
6. Go apple picking. Use your haul to make Rosh Hashanah apple cakes, kugels and other goodies.
7. Have a shofar-blowing showdown.
8. Gather family pictures from the past year, and work together to create a “year-in-review” collage.
9. After lighting the Rosh Hashanah candles, join hands and let everyone share hopes and dreams for the coming year.
10. Leave chocolate on your children’s pillows before every Rosh Hashanah along with a note wishing them a sweet New Year.