Interfaith Families, on Rosh Hashanah

At the Farmer’s Market on Sunday, I bought Jonagold apples to eat with honey, to celebrate the sweetness of the Jewish New Year this week. Then, yesterday, a Washington Post reporter came by to photograph our family with the apples, for a Rosh Hashanah story.

Here on the Mason-Dixon line, at the end of the hottest summer on record, I had to search to find local apples because peach and plum season is just starting to wind down, and apple season is only just beginning. This made me nostalgic for the Rosh Hashanahs of my childhood in New England, when we would go apple-picking as a family right after services every year. My sister and I wore cardigans over our holiday dresses, and the crisp air signaled the ready crop of northern apples–our favorites were McIntoshes and Macouns, both hard to come by in the south.

This time of year, I have often missed the ease of celebrating the Jewish New Year as part of a Jewish congregation. When I was growing up, we belonged to a synagogue, and so we automatically got tickets to services each year. My idea of a proper Reform Jewish service is inevitably based on that lush High Holiday choir of my childhood, salted with hired professionals and led by a brilliant organist, performing the Rosh Hashanah liturgy in sophisticated arrangements.

As an adult interfaith child married to an Episcopalian, raising children with both Judaism and Christianity, I have had to work harder to access Rosh Hashanah. Over the years, we have had backyard celebrations for the “birthday of the world,” including leaving a cake out for the urban critters. We have gone to the local creek with friends for private and impromptu Tashlich rituals, throwing bread into the running water to symbolize casting off all that we did wrong in the past year. Like many families, I took my kids to the free kid services at a local temple until they were really too old for the chaos and simplistic explanations of the holiday. And for many years, I bought expensive tickets to other people’s adult services. Or I flew “home” to celebrate with my parents, in the synagogue of my youth.

Meanwhile, our interfaith community would celebrate Rosh Hashanah a little bit ahead of the actual holiday, in order to encourage families to go to synagogues on the actual date. All of these ways of celebrating have been satisfying, in different ways.

But this year, for the first time in the history of our interfaith families community, we will celebrate the actual eve and day of Rosh Hashanah together as a community. Like an apple ripening just in time for the New Year, our community has ripened to the point where we feel the pull to be together, rather than splintering our community on this day and leaving families to cast about for tickets. We have our beloved rabbi finally available to lead the services after his recent retirement from the Georgetown chaplaincy, we have an operatic cantor, and we will have both evening and morning services.

My husband and I have both served on the Board of our interfaith community. Because this is our community, the one we have helped to build together, my husband and I will sit together at the services, knowing that we truly belong, and have equal standing there, no matter what our religious backgrounds. Recently, I was asked by a new Jewish blog to contribute a tip for interfaith families celebrating Rosh Hashanah, and I wrote about the importance of couples sitting through High Holiday services together.

The ideal, of course, is to have the whole family, not just the couple, sitting together. I am hoping that my teens are old enough and musically-sophisticated enough to appreciate a mezzo soprano. I hope they are going to appreciate being in the heart of the community they grew up in, as we listen to the ancient call of the the shofar. I often write of how sounds and smells and tastes trigger what we call spiritual experience.  In the varied history of my personal Rosh Hashanahs, I have never seen a child, nor an adult, who could resist thrilling to the blast of the ram’s horn, nor the sweet-tart taste of honey on apple. The sound should be more thrilling, the taste even sweeter this year, as we celebrate with other interfaith families.

One Reply to “Interfaith Families, on Rosh Hashanah”

  1. As a New Englander, I’ve always appreciated the perfect timing of ripening apples and the Jewish New Year. My childhood religious education centered on Judaism, and I retain fond memories of our Reform temple’s Sunday school celebrations: learning the symbolism of apples and honey, mimicking the shofar sounds and calls, and later understanding the concept of rebirth and atonement.

    I haven’t participated in temple activities for many years, but after a lovely day of apple-picking with my interfaith parents and my future spouse, I went home to nibble on a Macintosh drizzled with honey and reflect on the changes this new year will bring to our lives. In doing so, I realized that old habits die hard, and that perhaps I’m more connected to my spiritual past than I had thought.

    Thank you for writing and reminding me to appreciate my spiritual memories.

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