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How My Family Is Celebrating Rosh Hashanah During COVID-19

This Year, My Family Will Make Rosh Hashanah a Smaller and More Memorable Affair

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I have vivid memories of being dragged to synagogue to celebrate Rosh Hashanah when I was younger with my friends and family. At the time, I didn't appreciate the beauty of bringing in the Jewish New Year with my community until I became an adult. Now that I am a mother, one thing I was looking forward to was having my daughter grow up with similar memories of attending prayer services followed by a meal full of honey-soaked food and celebration. Alas, COVID-19 ruins yet another plan I had for 2020.

Naturally, I am pivoting my Rosh Hashanah plans. On a "normal" Rosh Hashanah, our daughter would be placed in a youth service at our synagogue while us adults pray in the main sanctuary. This year, we're going to host a more intimate celebration that works in some meaningful traditions to help my daughter understand the holiday and build some family memories. After I got over my disappointment of breaking tradition, I'm looking forward to creating a unique and special day for my husband and I to celebrate with our daughter. It'll be far more kid-focussed — and hopefully more meaningful to us. Of course, we'll still attend a virtual service, and incorporate our relatives via Zoom calls.

First, we are going to start the day with the best part of any holiday – baking. Traditionally, we eat food that is made with honey to help us have a "sweet" new year. What better way to create sweet blessings that by baking a cake? Using a cast-aluminium honeycomb pull-apart pan, we are making a beehive-like sweet treat using honey as the sweetener that'll be easily shareable and equally adorable.

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To incorporate some tradition, we will be observing Tashlich, a practice in which Jews symbolically cast off their sins that they performed over the past year into a body of water. They toss pieces of bread in the sea as if they are throwing away their sins. It is an extremely restorative practice that is a great opportunity for self-improvement and reflection. But I have found that the messageing gets lost when trying to perform Tashlich with a young child around a body of water that contains either fish or ducks. Feeding the animals Tashlich bread seems to be much more fun than self-reflection and atonement for your sins.

This year, instead of going to a body of water, we are going to perform Tashlich differently. Using some dissolvable paper, my family and I will write down our sins or behaviours that we want to "cast away." We'll then discuss what we wrote down and then place the paper in water to watch it disappear. I am hoping this will be a more meaningful practice that my daughter will focus on.

Finally, we'll enjoy a traditional Rosh Hashanah meal together, but with a twist. Since we are not having a large crowd over, we can get a little creative with the traditional apple and honey dipping. Finding an activity that is appealing to both my five year old and my husband is a challenge, but I think I got it this year: An apple and honey tasting station. I'm planning on offering a buffet of various sliced apples accompanied by a variety of honeys to allow everyone to find their best "pairing," to make the tradition more of an experience instead of a passive action. Plus it'll be a fun activity for all of us to get together and discuss our favourites – an activity we would likely not be able to accomplish in a controlled way with a large crowd.

It is a huge bummer that we won't get to celebrate Rosh Hashanah in the usual way, but I am trying my best to make the most out of the situation. Hosting a small, intimate holiday with my husband and daughter certainly has its perks, and I hope when we look back on this setback with fond memories of how we still rang in the Jewish New Year in a meaningful way.

Image Source: Getty / Vlad Fishman
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