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Crossing the Distance to Celebrate

Welcome to Celebrate US--stories about how we can celebrate the little and big moments in our lives to create memories that last. Last week, Jews all over the world celebrated our New Year holiday. No, it’s not my purpose here to explain the meaning of the holiday, why we celebrate it in the fall, or why this is the year 5772 in Jewish tradition. If you’d like answers to those questions, please check out the wonderful and easy to use site: What I will note, is that like many families these days, ours wasn’t together this holiday. It isn’t like “the olden days” as my kids used to say. It isn’t even like half a generation ago when you might expect at least half of the family to live within driving distance of one another. I am divorced from my children’s father, and my four children, two married with children of their own, live in four cities on two different continents. My siblings and I, unusual even for our generation, all live in Baltimore. In the fourth generation, only one of my father’s ten grandchildren has chosen to live here. We arrive at every holiday, religious or secular, joyful to be with those present, but also sad that so many of us are inevitably absent.

So I called all four of my children on the afternoon before the holiday began to wish them a good and sweet year. Then I emailed another message with an attachment, a list of ten questions put together by a talented educator to inspire meaningful conversations for their holiday celebrations. At lunch the next day, I shared the list and one of the questions with the family group my father and step-mother were hosting for lunch after services. “If someone were to write a book about you this year—what do you think would be its message?” We went around the table and asked each person to add one thing they wished for in the coming year. It was spontaneous, easy, and meaningful. “Health, peace, fun, life, inspiration, family, more time, more peace” and so it went. Then my six year old grand nephew and I took turns blowing the two ram’s horns (called a shofar) I had brought. This was a source of great amusement for everyone and amazement that we could get any sound whatsoever out of these ancient instruments.

I spoke to my Boston son later that afternoon to learn how his four year old daughter’s synagogue visit had gone.

“Didn’t you get my text last night?” he asked.

“No I didn’t see it.”

“It’s going to be your all time favorite text.”

One of the things about having family all over the place is that we collect texts and emails, digital pictures, and voicemail messages. These are the moments we share and celebrate, some of the most precious memories we now make together.

“Lauren said that ‘Rosh Hashanah is her favorite.’”

“Favorite what?”

“Just her current favorite experience.” Why? She got to eat apples with honey, drink a thimble of wine (she has loved wine has ever since she was an infant which alarms all of us just the teensiest bit), spend special time with “work daddy” (daddy dressed in his work clothes—he is usually gone before she wakes up in the morning), and both parents snuggled in bed with her and read her a bedtime story. What’s not to like for the average four year old—except for the cabernet?

The point was that the day stood out for her. It was special. Not like every other day. A few things marked it and made it different. Her parents made for her a memory. At our table in Baltimore, we participated together in naming the things we wanted for our new year. We broke bread with a blessing and blew the horn that gets our attention with its sharp, piercing notes. Halfway across the world, my son Alex with his wife, Natalie and their one year old son, Roy, gathered with 40 other Jews and their families in Dar Es Salaam to worship and have a meal together—an experience far from home that none of them will ever forget. We also made for ourselves for a memory. Although we were apart, and the absence of family was keenly felt, in Baltimore, Dar Es Salaam and in Boston, the holiday and its multiple rituals helped us all to connect to a shared tradition, and to find ways to celebrate US.

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