I love holidays. Especially holidays that merit a feast. I think we need more of those days.So, it might not surprise you that we celebrated Rosh Hashanah for the first time this year. This wasn’t a pre-meditated thing at all. I found out it was Rosh Hashanah on the day of while I was in the office and threw together some funny mish mosh of a feast.
It had been a long, trying week and we needed something. Something to encourage us to practice the discipline of celebration, of thankfulness. Conveniently, it was the start of the Jewish New Year Festivities that night. So that was our something!I googled where to find the best challah bread in town and planned our Rosh Hashanah menu. I bought honeycrisp apples and a pomegranate, butternut squash and Israeli couscous.
Then I went to Upper Crust Bakery to buy challah bread. I hesitated in the parking lot, unsure that they would have any challah left, that I might have to present some sort of ID confirming that I was actually Jewish and could partake, that I’d pronounce it incorrectly and be exposed. Ultimately, the smell from the dumpster pushed me to act, so onward I went, nodding to a couple on their way to the car, cradling their lumpy loaf.
I stood in the line, mentally reciting my pronunciation, looking to see where they might be storing the bread. Many were set on shelves and boxes with nametags on them. Apparently most people call ahead and reserve their challah. There were only two loaves left unclaimed, sitting on the glass display case. They looked so modest and beautiful, all braided and softly shining like Rachel herself must have been.I heard a man a few people in front of me teaching the girl the correct pronunciation of challah. She was saying it ‘holla’ which made me feel a little more confident that I wouldn’t totally butcher it, and he was practically hocking a loogy on her: “HHHHallAH!”
In the midst of all this, I realized that I was engaging in something ancient. I was surrounded by Jews- by a people who had endured, a people of tradition and intentionality. I wondered how the people around me had been affected by the Holocaust, I wondered what stories their families share at the table? Who is missing from around it?
This is why God told Israel to feast. He knew that feasts bring us together even when we are scattered.Feasting reminds us what we have to celebrate, what unites us. I didn’t know anyone in the Bakery, but I knew that I and all of these people had some beliefs in common as we purchased our matching loaves of challah bread. I knew that they would all take it home to their families and friends, dip apples in honey, and listen to the blowing of the Shofar. They would share Bible stories and toast “Next year in Jerusalem, Next year in the Holy City.”
My parents were kind enough to join us for our last minute celebration, and we all talked about tradition, about the Jewish faith, about the God of Israel, and about the recipes. As we all tried our first bites of Challah bread, we pulled off a tenth, our tithe to the Lord. For Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Jews are supposed to take breadcrumbs (or empty their pockets) into running water. For Israel, this was to symbolize releasing their sins of the previous year.We had decided our tithe would be symbolic too, a letting-go of all the parts of us that had gone stale over this past year, of dropping those burdens that we don’t want to carry anymore.
I was saving our challah tithe in the refrigerator because, as you may know, it’s a little difficult to find running water in central Texas. Until I realized that I, in my characteristic fashion, was literally holding onto the thing I was supposed to be letting go of. I was refrigerating the stale parts of me so they would keep longer!
So this weekend, we’re letting go. We’ll take the tithe to the lake by our church and scatter the crumbs and watch the turtles snatch them up, and we’ll pray, and we’ll say “Next year in Jerusalem, Next year in the Holy City.”