I suppose that “God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world,” as the poet Robert Browning wrote, because Rosh Hashana fell on a perfect day this year. Some years, the Jewish New Year begins while beach chairs still sit on the sand. Other years, frost is on the pumpkin.
Everyone knows the Jewish holidays are never on time. They’re either too early or too late or in the middle of the week, starting at sundown on a workday. This places an inordinate burden on women (mostly), who often wobble under the staggering responsibilities of family and food shopping, cooking and baking and jobs.
But this year was lovely. The eve was on Sunday. Kids have already begun school, so this break was a breather for the observant and the secular alike.
The fact is, the Jewish calendar and the secular calendars have little in common besides keeping track of time. The Jewish calendar is based on three astronomical phenomena: the rotation of the Earth around its axis (a day); the revolution of the moon around the Earth (a month); and the revolution of the Earth around the sun (a year). These three phenomena are independent of one another, so there is no direct correlation among them.
The secular calendar used by most of the world has arbitrarily set the length of months to 28, 30 or 31 days. Very logical, but Judaism is an ancient religion. If you’ve been counting the days one way for 5,779 years, change comes slowly. Besides, faith and logic often collide.
According to the Gregorian calendar, the earliest date on which Rosh Hashana can fall is Sept. 5, as happened in 1842, 1861, 1899 and 2013. The latest Gregorian date for Rosh Hashana is Oct. 5, as happened in 1815, 1929 and 1967, and will happen again in 2043. But what has this to do with the price of kishke or making noodle pudding for 35? Just that this particular year, the holiday was more or less in synchrony with the autumnal equinox. We aren’t used to such mitzvahs.
And, may I say, inconvenient timing is the least of it for a long-suffering people.
In my own family, our lives have changed so much that the traditional holiday is just a memory. We used to gather at my dining room table, grandparents and parents and kids and sometimes friends. Over the course of two nights, we consumed impressive amounts of chicken soup with matzo balls, brisket in gravy, potatoes and kugels and challahs and desserts dripping with honey and studded with nuts.
Our ranks have thinned (due not just to cholesterol overload), and because our kids live outside New York, we can’t always gather at the same table. This year we invited sisters and friends and nieces and nephews.
At press time, I imagined the scene: We would hold hands around the table, offer our blessings and enjoy a traditional meal. Sort of. My husband, a vegan plus fish, isn’t a brisket kind of guy anymore. Actually, he’s a living example of brisket’s cause and effect. Now he’s more a grilled salmon and string beans kind of guy.
This one has reflux, and that one’s on Atkins, and the other one eats only quinoa. So a vegetarian meal was called for: split pea soup, spinach pie, peppers stuffed with couscous and sautéed mushrooms, asparagus, sweet potatoes baked with dried apricots, cherries and prunes, a fresh berry tart and cookies.
I would light the candles; we would drink wine and toast our family and one another. We would pray for the children and grandchildren, we would remember our parents and grandparents and pray, too, for peace in the world and peace of mind.
Every year I recall another occasion, too. Fifty-one years ago an eager young man of 20 arrived at my parents’ door on Rosh Hashana eve. It was the first time he had left his family’s table in Lawrence to join ours in Cedarhurst. He basically burst through the door, grabbed my hand and pulled me into another room. He slipped a ring on my finger and asked me to marry him.
The rest is history, our history. The Jewish New Year always reminds us who we are and where we started, no matter whether the holiday is early, late or just on time.
Copyright 2019 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.