Home High Holy Days Traditions
September 11, 2020 1:02 PM   Subscribe

Jews of Metafilter, what home traditions of the High Holy Days do you remember most fondly from your childhood? What traditions did you create for yourself and your family as an adult?

Neither my wife nor I was raised in a home that celebrated the High Holy Days, so we have no home traditions to fall back on. We only started attending services a few years ago and there aren't any in-person services this year in our area. And more importantly, we now have a 7-month old baby. We want to hear about your favorite home High Holy Days traditions so we can create our own for our new family.
posted by carrioncomfort to Society & Culture (13 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I didn't celebrate as a child because I grew up in a mixed-culture areligious home. Now my partner is a raised-Jewish Jew and even though we don't live together, we do try to do something for the major holidays and I try to get together with a local family during Passover. I honestly feel that the new year is a good time to practice a few things

- reaching out to all of my Jewish friends, particularly older relatives just to wish them a good one and sometimes sending cards and notes.
- being publicly Jewish in social spaces just to remind people of the religious diversity of America, even rural America
- during Yom Kippur my partner and I speak more openly about things we could have done better and ways we'd like to be better. Nothing major but it's like a safe, special time to have these conversations.
- new fruits!!!! (one of the more fun things for kids on these days I'd think)

And I know this isn't quite "on brand" but I do work on my own forgiveness to people who are no longer with us, just try to get to a warmer place with people who may have been suboptimal in my life but who can't atone themselves.
posted by jessamyn at 1:46 PM on September 11 [3 favorites]

Home rituals for Rosh Hashana tend to revolve around food. Jews!
For us: A big family meal Erev RH, and both days after synagogue was over-my family makes the same thing every chag (with certain swaps for Passover): gefilte fish and israeli salad (cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, lemon/oil/vinegar dressing), a vegetarian soup, a meat soup, matzah balls, brisket, chicken, some vegetarian main depending on the attendees(I'm there for soup and sides, personally), tzimmuz (ours is vegetarian) and a sweet noodle kugel. RH desserts have apples in them, for the most part.
Also at that meal:
-Round challah with raisins.
-Apples dipped in honey.
-Yes, new fruits! Frequently pomegranates.
-Saying shechechiyanu.
Tashlich is fun and is very much a home-tradition. In future years, you can go with a group. This year, it sounds like a nice time for a family walk to throw some crumbs (metaphorical and real ones).
posted by atomicstone at 1:59 PM on September 11 [3 favorites]

We're also making a big dinner: apples and honey, brisket with potatoes and onions, noodle kugel, braised leeks, salad, honey cake, stuffed dates, and challah. (MeMail me for recipes if you want them, but I really recommend anything by Leah Koenig.)

I've done a new round challah every week this month as practice.

One of my other (less fun) traditions is writing notes to people who've scheduled events on Rosh Hashanah. It's always the people who shout the loudest about the value of diversity, unfortunately. Sometimes they change; mostly they send polite "fuck you" notes.
posted by marfa, texas at 2:04 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]

Tashlich is fun for children and a beautiful ritual for adults. I'm looking forward to it this year in particular.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:13 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]

For Rosh Hashanah when I was little we did apples and honey kind of regularly for snacks, around this time. I posit that this fostered within me a lifelong love of honey and interest in local apiarists. We also a couple times went to a pick your own apples orchard place that did different heirloom apples. We'd have fresh cider and do the cinnamon stick thing even though it was still hot out in September. My mom would make apple sauce from jonathan apples that she'd freeze and later that year it would go with our Hanukkah latkes. We'd bring back a bunch of apples to donate to the food bank.

Donating to the food bank and gathering food donations from friends and neighbors was always a big thing in our synagogue and my parents were very active in the brotherhood and sisterhood which yearly did a big food drive for the high holy days - on Rosh Hashanah everyone who attended services got a few grocery bags and we were supposed to fill them up and bring them back for drop off on Yom Kippur, or earlier. Sometimes when I got older I helped with this. I suspect that if my parents hadn't been so directly involved with synagogue activities we would have done our own food bank donation things. These days there are cool organizations that harvest and distribute urban-grown backyard fruit to people in need, which feels seasonally appropriate to me.

We also treated Rosh Hashanah as a combo/excuse for back to school purchases. We never did new years' gifts or anything like that but a lot of the more frivolous back to school acquisitions were justified via Rosh Hoshanah, like some fancy shoes or fresh art supplies for me (I... have not changed), some cash to spend as-desired at the used bookstore, just generally things to set us up for a good academic year. One time my brother got a fancy calculator, fancier than required for school, via the Rosh Hashanah excuse. I would always request those rainbow holographic pencils with the black wood.

We never did any decorating for the holiday, although when I was very little I attended the JCC preschool so we made terrible construction paper apples and such which my parents obligingly taped up. Since it was the 90s Mom would sometimes switch up things like the tablecloth and other linens to different seasonal or more decorative ones. We'd get and send a few cards which we'd put up on side table.

My family is very musical. So practicing all the High Holy Day music for choir was a constant. My brother also played the french horn so for years he was one of the people who played the shofar in synagogue. In the weeks leading up, his practices would go from horrible braps to nearly listenable as he remembered how to play it. You can get your own shofar, they make for very interesting mantelpiece art, imo. There is a lot of Rosh Hashanah music you could listen to with your kiddo at home.

Yom Kippur was always better than Rosh Hashanah for me, because I'm a very serious goth person who dug the idea of sins and forgiveness and people being written in the book of death, even at like, five years old. Anyway for Yom Kippur we'd still be doing the food donation organization things, and it would get that tinge of relevancy because of fasting. Also the synagogue friend group my parents were included in did a yearly rotating break the fast potluck, which was when the real shit went down about whose brisket was best. When it was at our house it was basically my mom acting like Gayle in Company Is Coming while simultaneously cooking twelve pounds of roasted garlic potatoes. But most years it was a more subdued house cleaning leading up to Yom Kippur, like an inverted spring cleaning. New year fresh towels, you know? We also would do a lot of autumn gardening stuff like mulching, pruning, planting bulbs... things to begin prep for a winter without too many surprises. My dad was the yard guy so he'd include me in little ways when I was small ("Help me pick what colors of pansies to get.") and bigger ways when I was older ("Haul this wheelbarrow of dirt over here and dig a hole." "Dad, I forgive you for this sin you have committed against me." "Just do it.")

I was always pretty into the whole thinking on the previous year and working through my screw ups and starting fresh post Yom Kippur, to the point where as an adult I find myself mentally much more able to get on with things in late autumn than any other time of year. I'd do things like write out things I'd done poorly with my friends and actively going around trying to make things right. My very best friend was always vaguely perplexed by my Jewish stuff but she always dug the idea of Yom Kippur too and annually we'd have a sort of hashing out/mutual forgiveness thing. Most cathartic. My own family would be a lot more open about things we were worrying about, things we could remember to do better in the future, and so-on, in that period between the holidays. For example one year my dad was having a really hard time at work and he'd fallen short in ways he could be a good husband, and I remember a dinnertime conversation about this. He brought it up all chagrined and Mom forgave him and said she understood why and suggested some different concrete ways to help her out. It was extremely good behavior modeling for me growing up.

As people above have noted, there is the "tradition" of explaining to goyim why these particular days are not days we will be working or going to school or going other places. I think also right now it is particularly important to be visibly, actively Jewish doing Jewish Things, and learning about how Jews right now are fighting the antisemitism that's flaring up in the US. I feel like almost yearly I got a test or quiz rescheduled because of High Holy Days, which I'm sure was super fun for my parents to interface with schools about. Working on your wording, explanations, and balancing your level of annoyance with resignation is a grand Jewish tradition.
posted by Mizu at 2:14 PM on September 11 [8 favorites]

Marfa what do you stuff those dates with

also: round challah with powdered sugar glaze and sprinkles.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:15 PM on September 11

Almond paste, rosewater, cinnamon, and cardamom. It's a Leah Koenig recipe; MeMail me if you want the recipe (or buy her book; it's in The Jewish Cookbook).
posted by marfa, texas at 2:41 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]

(or buy her book; it's in The Jewish Cookbook).

My brother gave me this cookbook last year. It is absolutely incredible. Thanks for the reminder, marfa, texas! I would agree that trying some of the celebratory recipes in it would be a great tradition to start.
posted by Mizu at 3:25 PM on September 11

I like to take time to reflect and answer the questions sent out by Do You 10Q?, one question for each day from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur. Are you finish, your answers are securely stored until the next year. The questions are the same every year, once you've done it for a while, you go back through all of the past years to see what's changed and what stayed the same. (There will an optional pandemic related question each day this year). Also, you can write whatever you want - if you don't like question you can skip it or use the space to write something else. Some years I wait until the last day and just write a single reflection on the year. But it is really nice structure for reflection that fits the themes of the holidays.
posted by metahawk at 4:48 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]

my observant cousin won't break her fast until she can see 3 stars in the sky
posted by brujita at 5:06 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]

We always had a pitcher of orange juice at the door for the breaking of the fast (which was a dairy meal), and it's this very intense sense memory for me. We also had challah and apples and honey, and a cinnamon babka my grandmother only made once a year (then she gave me the recipe and I make it rather more often). There was of course other food, but I don't remember what. All my memories are of the breaking of the fast, which was a big extended family buffet style meal, and I loved it.
posted by jeather at 5:14 PM on September 11

In my family, the best traditions are inside jokes -- which take time to accumulate, but you can watch for opportunities!

For High Holidays: we have apples and BBQ sauce. When my Bobi was starting to decline, she accidentally served us that instead of apples + honey... and as it was passed around the table, it took a surprising amount of time for us to pinpoint the problem. ("This tastes... different? What kind of honey is that?") As far as I know, ours is the only family that does it, which makes it feel special.
posted by cranberry_nut at 3:29 AM on September 12 [4 favorites]

For my family, it was all about the food. Rosh Hashanah was gefilte fish, matzo ball soup, horseradish, brisket, kugel, challah. Often one of those ambrosia jello/marshmallow/canned fruit monstrosities. To break the fast on Yom Kippur we ate breakfast - usually bagels and lox, smoked whitefish, sliced vegetables, and pickles.
posted by gnutron at 9:46 AM on September 12

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