Vicki has a friend at school this year who happens to be an Orthodox Jew. This friendship has been a great learning opportunity for our family, and especially for Vicki. Chris and I really want to encourage our children to respect all beliefs, no matter how different they are from our own. It's much easier to respect something when you understand it, so I'm excited to live in such a diverse place, where my children have friends from all kinds of backgrounds.
Today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It began last night at sundown, and Vicki and I, along with another friend and her mother, were invited to join her friend's family for their Rosh Hashanah meal. It was a great experience.
We got to see them light the candles and hear the traditional prayers, like kiddish on the wine (which was just sparkling grape juice because they don't drink either) and the blessing on the challah. The coolest thing was hearing Vicki's friend, who is 7, and her 3 year old brother sing the prayers in Hebrew. Their mom or their family friend would translate them into English for us so we knew what was being said. We ate apples dipped in honey for a sweet New Year, and golden carrots to wish us wealth in the New Year. We also had kugel, salmon, and macaroni and cheese (at the kids' request). There was apple challah, and for dessert we had honey cake, again for a sweet New Year, and spice cake, to liven things up for the New Year. Our friends informed us that Jewish holidays are always about one of two things, or a combination of them: remembering when people were trying to oppress the Jews, in which case they fast, or celebrating that they didn't all get killed, in which case they eat until they burst. This was definitely a holiday of rememberance, at least according to those stipulations. And when I said I was going to pass on another piece of challah because I was saving room for dessert, I got the "Jewish mother" treatment (jokingly, of course): "What, you don't like it? I made it for you, so how could you not like it? No, no, don't worry about me, then. I'll just sit here all alone. In the dark." Yes, Jewish people seem to have a great sense of humor about themselves.
After dinner we read some stories about Rosh Hashanah: Gershon's Monster and When the Chickens Went on Strike, both of which are great books about customs of the holiday (another great one is The White Ram, which we checked out from the library in anticipation of the event). The highlight of the evening, though, was getting to hear Vicki's friend blow her shofar, which is a ram's horn and is blown on Rosh Hashanah to call in the New Year. Then they gave toy shofars to Vicki and her friend. They sound like those party favor horns. (That was not the highlight of the evening.) We had a great time and learned a lot more about Jewish beliefs. I enjoyed seeing the similarities and differences between what they believe and what we do, and Vicki just said the whole thing was "really cool!"
Shanah Tovah, everyone!