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Rosh Hashanah: A Home Away From Home

A strange thing happened when I left the only home I’d ever known — New York — 11 years ago this month to move to the mountains of Colorado: I looked for a synagogue to pray on Rosh Hashanah.

I was raised in a Reform Jewish family and loved every moment of the togetherness and good food that each holiday brought. I loathed, though, Hebrew school and the religious services that always lasted what felt like an eternity in which I had to sit still, be quiet and wear blouses that forever had itchy collars.

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When I moved into Manhattan after college, my parents would shake their heads with disappointment when I told them I wasn’t always able to take the train up to their house for the High Holidays, explaining that my media jobs didn’t always allow for me to duck out of work every time it was time to atone on Yom Kippur or dip apples in honey for the Jewish new year. Secretly, too, I was kind of happy not to waste glorious autumn days in a large, stuffy sanctuary whose stain-glassed windows obscured the view of the changing leaves outside.

But when I moved away from home — literally the first week I was gone — I only wanted to be in the temple. It made me feel connected to my family 2,000 miles away. And when I married a man who wasn’t Jewish, we agreed we’d raise our daughters 100 percent Jewish. I didn’t want to lose the religion that was, for better or worse, part of my identity by doing anything half-and-half.

Rosh Hashanah was an escape from the secular world into our own, cozy creation that always made me feel all of the other days in the year were just times to wait.

My girls are now 3 and 6, and it is with incalculable delight that I watch them gleefully anticipating celebrating Rosh Hashanah. We’re making an apple cake that is more birthday cake than apple, much to their satisfaction. We’ll attend a family service (translation: a blessedly short service) in our Reform synagogue close to home, and then join other parents and kids at a friend’s house where they’ll all get to run around, eat and celebrate what the kids can’t exactly articulate, but what other parents like me know from our own upbringing, which is basically an invisible, intangible attachment to each other.

It’ll still be different for my kids than it was for me. Jewish holidays, when I was a kid, was about togetherness, but specifically with family. My cousins and I would disappear upstairs at one of our homes or outside and revel in hours of free play, ducking downstairs only to steal bites of food and show off for our grandparents and great aunts and uncles the prayers we’d learned specifically for each occasion. We’d change into pajamas when it grew dark, crawl into the bed of the parents' home we were in and watch TV until it was time to retreat back to our own homes and beds. It was an escape from the secular world into our own, cozy creation that always made me feel all of the other days in the year were just times to wait for these showcase moments of what life was meant to be about.

One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t give more thought 11 years ago to the fact that I was risking settling in a place so far from my parents and extended family for when the moment came for me to start one of my own. But through and because of my daughters, what I realize is that it doesn’t mean I can’t still create a different kind of heartfelt network for them. Being Jewish, albeit 2,000 miles from grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, is still about family and connection.

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We’re forging new ties, and chief among them is surrounding ourselves with like-minded families (if not blood relations) to celebrate our devotion to a belief bigger then ourselves that allows us to feel closer to others, even if just for a few days each year.

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