(Published Aug 25, 2021)
It’s the High Holidays, do you know where your Jewish friends are? For JCC board members and 2021 Hand in Hand Campaign co-chairs Ally Weiss and Eric Ratner, while their exact locations are different, the ways in which they observe Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) are quite similar, to each other and Jews around the world: They attend synagogue services and enjoy festive meals with family and friends.
The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same
As with many other rituals, the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted several of the specifics of Ally’s and Eric’s celebrations. While in years past synagogue services were always in person (Eric’s family has been sitting in the same general area for 30+ years), last year both families streamed the services virtually online, and this year’s plans are TBD as the Delta variant continues to make its way through Indianapolis. They still get together with loved ones, but with some mitigation measures in place. “We’ve spent the holidays more outside, having socially distanced dinner celebrations,” Ally said. “For Yom Kippur, we used to break the fast at Shapiro’s [Deli] with a few other families (including the Shapiros themselves; they and the Weiss family are good friends), but since COVID we have it at our mom’s house and Shapiro’s caters.”
That Shapiro’s break-the-fast spread is, like all the High Holidays meals for both Ally and Eric, made up of traditional Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish food. “I love the food,” Eric said. “I love noodle kugel [casserole], potato kugel. Noodle kugel is probably one of my favorite things ever (must be sweet, with absolutely no raisins!). Egg salad, chicken salad, bagels, lox [smoked salmon]. Just talking about it makes me look forward to it.” For Ally’s family, while break-the-fast is catered, Rosh Hashana is more of a potluck: “My mom makes a delicious kugel, and I’m the designated matzah ball soup maker.” It’s Rosh Hashana custom to dip apples in honey as a way to wish for a sweet new year, but Zoe Weiss takes it to a whole new level. “[Mom will] get an assortment of different flavored honey sticks for everyone so that dipping the apples in the honey is a little fun and extra sweet,” Ally said. “She also makes apple bread or muffins, which makes the house smell really good, which is always exciting when you walk in.”
Zoe Weiss’s apples-and-honey Rosh Hashana decorations
New Year, New Outlook
Both Eric and Ally appreciate that the High Holidays offer a chance to be introspective. “It’s always nice to reflect on what we have, be thankful for that and start thinking about things coming up in the new year,” Ally said. Eric concurred: “It’s a time for self-improvement, to be a better person, a better Jew. And it’s about [the family] being together. Sharing that time with each other, building and strengthening our relationships, celebrating the new year, atonement and asking for forgiveness.”
Part of a Chain
Like their High Holidays traditions that have lasted decades, a sense of continuity is what makes the J so important to Ally and Eric. Giving back is a way for Ally to feel close to her father, who was very active in the Jewish community until he passed away in 2014 (Ally even worked at the J for a few years, and joined the board after changing jobs so she could stay involved). And for both Ally and Eric, the J is a link to their childhood that they want to perpetuate into their families’ futures: They both grew up meeting friends and playing sports at the facility, and want their kids to be able to tell similar stories. As Eric put it, “I want [the J] to continue to be a pillar of our community. L’dor v’dor – from generation to generation.”
Beginner’s Guide to the High Holidays
This holiday is the Jewish New Year, which marks the beginning of the 10-day period of prayer, self-reflection, and repentance. It is celebrated on the first (sometimes second) day of the Hebrew month Tishrei (in September). Rosh Hashana marks the first of the Jewish High Holidays. A tradition of the Jewish faith is to eat apples with honey at this time, representing hopes for a sweet new year. Another common food eaten on this holiday are pomegranates, symbolizing to be fruitful as it has many seeds.
A common greeting used for this time of year is the Hebrew phrase “L’shanah tova”, meaning “a good year”
Yom Kippur, as known as the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the Jewish year. It is celebrated on the tenth day of Tishrei, concluding the High Holidays. This is a time for Jews to atone and repent for the past year. Jews will traditionally observe this holiday over a twenty-five hour period of fasting (if they are able) and refraining from work, spending a majority of the day in synagogue services. They will ask God for forgiveness of their sins to secure their fate and cleanse their souls of bad intentions and wrong doings.
The best greeting to say to someone observing this holiday is “have a meaningful fast.” If the person is not fasting, you can say “Good Yuntif” or “Yom Tov”, Yiddish and Hebrew respectively for “have a good holy day”.
Sukkot is celebrated on the fifteenth month of Tishrei (varies from late September to late October). It is the only festival associated with an explicit commandment of rejoice. It represents a time to give thanks for the bounty of the earth during the fall harvest. At this time, Jews will build “sukkahs”, an outdoor structure with walls that are typically covered in some sort of plant overgrowth, such as palm leaves. Jews will spend much of their time in these huts in order to feel more connected with the earth and give thanks for what the earth has offered them.
To wish a happy Sukkot (or any other holiday), say “Chag sameach” (“Happy Holiday” in Hebrew).
Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah
Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah mark the end of Sukkot and the completion of the annual Torah reading for the Jews. These holidays celebrate the love for God that the Jews have and it is a time to rejoice. On Simchat Torah, after reading the final chapter of the Torah, Jews will then immediately start again at the beginning, reminding us that the Torah is a circle; it always continues even when it is over.
Following the completion of Torah readings, there is a celebration where Jews will lift up the Torah scrolls, singing and dancing with them around the synagogue.
Learn more about these and other Jewish holidays at JCCindy.org/holidays.