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Embracing Cultural Diversity #7

Rosh Hashanah: The Jewish New Year

By Alexandra

Rosh Hashanah is Hebrew and means beginning of the year. At sunset, families and friends gather to pray and then eat the traditional honey and apples, which symbolize the hope for a sweet new year.

Rosh Hashanah not only marks the New Year it also honors the creation date of Adam and Eve some 5,700 years ago, the first relationship, and the human connection with God’s world. For me it also means a nice occasion to get together.

Two years ago, I spent Rosh Hashana with my great aunt and my distant cousins in Berlin. They live in the former East Berlin, which brought an entirely different experience to our family celebration, as they weren’t allowed to live their Jewish life openly in the DDR. Since reunification we have had many family get-togethers that began with me coming from a more religious background and them curious to see what it was all about.

That last time, two years ago, we went to the Rykestrasse Synagogue, where the celebration of Rosh Hashana seemed very eclectic to me. For the meal afterward, I prepared some special recipes, including brisket with dried fruit and mashed potatoes. This was followed by a nice honey cake and sweet wine. The idea is that the food should be sweet, as it symbolizes that the coming year will be sweet and happy.

Before we ate, my great aunt Vera lit the candles and said the prayer. She was a very special person: She spent her life writing books about our family members, bringing their characters to life, even though they were all killed in the Holocaust. In her first book, she described a family get-together on Rosh Hashana from the viewpoint of a young child sitting in a corner. She described the happy atmosphere of the whole family being together. It was their last time getting together before Kristallnacht. Only my grandfather managed to escape to England.

Little did we know two years ago that our Rosh Hashanah gathering would become such a special memory of togetherness. Vera passed away only two weeks later, and the following year we were in lockdown.

This year synagogues are finally open again, and I hope to spend this year in the company of friends and family.

Wishing you all a Shana Tova—Happy New Year!

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