Traditions provide us with a sense of stability and continuity. Being part of a tradition allows us to take our place in the long line of history and act as messengers transmitting the details of the tradition from those who preceded us over to those that will follow. The idea that gefilte fish, a ground stew of fish, molded into balls, oversize patties or rolls really doesn’t smell so bad and tastes so much better with horseradish is a tradition, especially if this particular delicacy is eaten mostly on Friday nights. More then two hundred years ago it was eaten this way and will likely be prepared much the same two hundred years hence. Eating chulent, the Eastern European version of Boston Baked beans, a concoction of beans, potatoes, whatever meat if available, vegetables if you chose and in our house beer for flavor, which is slow cooked for about 18 hours, is not much different. No matter that these were poor ghetto dwellers food; the tradition has turned them into delicacies that have become a virtual requirement at many if not most Jewish homes. And for yeshiva students, chulent has slowly moved from a Saturday afternoon lunch treat to a Thursday evening one along with greasy potato kugel.
Not many know that it is a tradition among some not to kiss in a synagogue. Those who follow this tradition believe that only holy objects should be shown such affection in such a holy place. It is a tradition for a bride to wear white on her wedding day and for many there is a similar tradition for a groom which is why the groom dons a kitel under the chupah. The seven blessings under the chupah are a long held tradition going back possibly thousands of years. Though the granting of the honor to recite the blessings to certain select individuals has changed back and forth from one person, the rabbi officiating, to other rabbis, or family members has also evolved over the years. Breaking the glass is another tradition.
Traditions expand. Dancing a hora, which is little more than an Eastern European folk dance that gained traction among the early pioneers, at all parties including weddings, Bar mitzvahs, even sweet-sixteens is another tradition that has expanded over the last hundred or so years. Carrying a bride and groom on chairs like royalty while dancing at their wedding is yet another tradition. And so is the Mezinka dance another circle dance reserved for the parents of the bride or groom who are marrying off their last child. The parents who sit in the circle often wear a crown of flowers to honor the success of marrying off their children. Some of those dancing will carry a broom to indicate that the parents have succeded in sweeping the children out of the house and into families of their own where they can carry on the tradition. But traditions evolve. Weddings now include flash mobs, Jewish music with the beat of sixties rock, flame throwers, twirlers, dancers in traditional Ukrainian party attire and who knows what else.
Different traditions for different groups and little twists that families add to these meaningful acts cause us to revere our ancestry. At our son’s wedding today we will have our traditions too. Let’s celebrate our common heritage and our unique approaches.