For many years, Ellen started a tradition of traveling to Jenna’s for Rosh Hashanah to celebrate with her friends. This year, Jenna had a business trip to New York that coincided perfectly with the Jewish calendar so she spent the holiday at home in New Jersey. In this post, we both reflect on new traditions we are trying to set as we celebrate the change of season and Jewish new year.
Rosh Hashanah is an important Jewish holiday that marks the beginning of the new year (on the Jewish calendar). Much like the secular New Year, it’s one where we reflect on the last year and prepare for the year ahead. We eat some special foods on Rosh Hashanah that are sweet to signify that we all wish for ourselves and others a sweet new year filled with good health, happiness and prosperity.
This holiday symbolism was also applicable this year to Jenna and my time together– like honey, it was sweet, golden and flowed so easily. I had been a little worried about this trip because Jenna is more observant than I am and I wanted her to have a meaningful experience. But I wasn’t quite sure how to create the right circumstances for that to happen.
It turned out that things couldn’t have folded into place more perfectly, and we experienced some new holiday joys along the way. For the first time in 10-15 years (I’ve lost count), we spent the holiday with my sister Lydia and her family, and I think it was a profound experience for all of us. Over the past few years, my sister and I have reconnected by sharing joyous occasions (the marriages of both my niece and nephew) and collaborating on the care of my father. At the encouragement of Jenna and her cousin Hannah, Lydia hosted a holiday dinner for her family and mine and our 88 year-old father.
We all really enjoyed ourselves that night – my conversation with my sister was easy and it was a powerful “return to family” for me. Lydia and I have Jenna and Hannah to thank for our reunion, and not only am I happy for us but also for them. Jenna has endured family dysfunction on both sides of her family and I’ve regretted that she hasn’t experienced strong bonds with her extended family for many years. I knew that I was not modelling the best behavior.
Now, after this new beginning of sorts, I hope that I am teaching Jenna the power of forgiveness and that important family relationships can be healed with openness, flexibility and acceptance. I have a feeling that she will need to call on that lesson again in her lifetime.
It has been nearly a decade since I have returned home for the holidays – which is hard to believe! Throughout my time at UMD and post-college life in DC, I went to my dad’s college roommate’s in Maryland for the Jewish holidays. His family always graciously invited me to dinners – whether at their home or a friend’s – and I began to think of them as an extension of my own family. When I moved to Philly, I relished the opportunity to host myself and give my friends from various cultures a taste of Jewish traditions.
As my mom mentioned, I have had fractured relationships on both sides of my family, which has taught me that “friends can become family.” I feel so lucky to have shared such special memories with great people over the years.
But at the end of the day, there is nothing like true family. To be honest, I had pretty much given up on ever having the perfect holiday surrounded by loving family that was able to get along. However, my cousin Hannah and I had begun to notice that over time, our moms seemed to be more cordial and caring towards one another. Knowing I was coming home for the holidays for the first time in many years, we set out on a plan to bring our family together! First, we both asked our mom’s separately if they were interested in the idea. Once we knew that they were both game, they began to converse and coordinate a beautiful family dinner!
Throughout the evening, Hannah and I kept smiling at each other and commenting on how well the evening was going. We decided many years ago that we would maintain a strong relationship despite our family’s riffs – but having everyone all together was icing on the cake.
I’m really proud of my mom and aunt for putting aside their differences, seeing the good in each other and forgetting what has happened in the past.. As we look to the Jewish New Year, they showed Hannah and me that we can all forgive – and the payoffs can be huge. I am excited to know that I now have a family to return to for holidays and am excited for the memories we will build together in the future.