Among the Jewish holidays, Pesach and Rosh Hashanah are the hardest for those who have suffered a loss or have no family. If we have to rank the two, I feel that Rosh Hashanah is somewhat harder. While in our part of the world, Pesach is celebrated in the spring, time of hope and new beginnings, the mood of self-examination which characterizes the High Holidays is augmented by the innate melancholy of the fall. The fact that Rosh Hashanah lasts two days and is only the beginning of a whole month full with awe-inspiring festivities, is an additional reason for its being such a burden.
There were other times as well, actually Rosh Hashanah used to be my favorite holiday, but once my husband passed away I started to experience first hand the problematic aspects of the holidays.
In recent years Facebook keeps providing new and unexpected anxieties connected to the holidays. Some “friends” show off their talent as hosts and post, ahead of time, photos of a decorated table. Others demonstrate their good fortune by posting, in real time, pictures of their happy family sitting around the Rosh Hashanah table,
I wouldn’t want to be invited for holiday dinner to the home of one of those happy Facebook families. As someone who suffered a loss, even seeing the pictures is a painful reminder of what I no longer have, and perhaps it is best not to look at Facebook during the holiday season.
Israel is a family-centered society and, in order to escape the holiday stress, it has become a national tradition for many single people to be abroad during the Jewish holiday season.
But for the few who stay in Israel and decline the dinner invitations of friends and relatives, there are other options. My way of coping with the holiday was to revive a family tradition that we started when we lived in the US.
Since we wanted our young daughters to get to know the Jewish holidays and to remember them, we decided to have a festive and meaningful event. So my husband and I always had young people over for Rosh Hashanah and Pesach. They were usually Jewish students from the university who were happy to come to someone’s home for the holiday meal. They often asked to bring over a friend or two.
The same thing happened last night as well, most of the guests around the table were students who came over with their friends. Around the table we had Americans who study at international programs at the university, new immigrants from Russia and some Israelis. From the questions of the new comers about the holiday customs and about Israeli society it was clear that they had not been invited to many Israeli homes.
Without friends or relatives, it was a different kind of holiday, but it was easy and full of good will, just like the holidays that we used to have back in the US. I’d forgotten how hungry students could be and was really glad that I made enough food.
Happy New Year.