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Thoughts about Rosh Hashanah


Shalom and blessings. I would like to mention a few things as we start moving in on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. And I must preface them by admitting that I was raised in a completely non-religious, secular Jewish home. However, both sets of grandparents were observant, and my maternal grandfather, Ze’ev Yehoshua, ben Moshe Brin, alav hashalom, was a schochet and a mohel and a baal tefillah (cantor).  But there was no Judaism in my home growing up. No mezuzah, no Shabbat meals other than boiled chicken from the soup made with traif chicken on every Friday night, and for dessert, my mother’s iconic chocolate cake made with sour cream dark chocolate frosting. (It was milchigs right after fleishigs, but my parents didn’t hold from that). The cake was square and lavishly frosted. My brother Bruce, alav hashalom, and I would negotiate for the corners, the part of the cake that had the most frosting. I usually got the corners (yes, sometimes all four. I was fat.). I got the corners by giving Bruce my share of my mother’s equally iconic apple pie. I did not care for her apple pie.  

We had a ritual in my house. When my mother made the chicken soup, she used two chickens and a bunch of giblets. One chicken with the giblets they served on Friday night. And the other chicken was put away for Saturday afternoon lunch. But it never got that far. Bruce and I would eat it in the middle of the night. And it frustrated my mother because there was no chicken for lunch, or at least not much of one.

Whenever they would go out Friday night, they would hide the chicken. But we always found it. So, one time they were going out and they really wanted that chicken to make it through the night. So, what they did is wrap the chicken up in wax paper, tie it up with a string and tie the other end of the string to a window pull, close the window, and dangle the chicken out the window on about a three foot long piece of string. And we lived on the third floor. And we found it. I like to think that there was some relationship between my searching for the chicken Friday night and years later, searching for G-d.  

That was the Friday night meal, no Kiddush on wine, no kashrut, but a Friday night meal with challah, the table covered with a linen tablecloth, and linen napkins, and the fancy plates and glassware, but not the real silver, only the silverplate. That was Shabbos. A barely perceptible remnant of a previous generation’s Shabbos, but, as my grandfather used to say, “Half a loaf is better than none.”

And then I became a Torah observant Orthodox Jew on Yom Kippur, 1975. , and I remain so till today. And my wife, Ariela, insists on using the real silver on Shabbat. And she covers our table with one of my mother’s linen tablecloths and uses linen napkins. And she always instructs the guests by telling them that the napkins are to be placed in your lap to protect your clothing. They are not to be used to wipe your mouth. There are paper napkins for that. We like formal, but not too formal. There has to be laughs, churban Beit HaMikdash or no churban Beit HaMikdash. The earlier generations of observant Jews did not allow themselves laughter because laughter is reserved for the redemption when G-d will fill our mouths with laughter. But today, we are so close. Things we did to remind us of the destruction of the Second Temple are being replaced by things to remind us of the construction of the Third Temple. And not nearly enough things.  

Chaim Clorfene