The *Really* Important Traditions

One of the hardest parts of living abroad is being away from home during the holidays.  While it’s great to experience other Jewish traditions and those traditions are beautiful in their own right, eating fish to break the Yom Kippur fast makes me feel like I have my shirt on inside out.

So, while I happily adopt Yom Kippur to suit my husband’s traditions (so he can put his shirt on right side out sometimes too), on Rosh Hashanah, I try as best I can to replicate the holidays of my youth.  I cook the same foods we ate every single Rosh Hashanah at my grandparents’ house growing up.

My grandparents and parents are gone now and my brothers far away, but somehow between my grandmother’s silverware adorning our table, and our silver-framed black-and-white photos of her and my grandfather’s families, all of whom died during the Shoah, I feel that although I am not with my family, that my family is here.

I make the same foods my grandmother and mother did.  My grandmother was not a fabulous cook, her brisket was like shoe leather,  (luckily I use my mother’s recipe), but she had a few dishes that she made which were extraordinary.  Her kreplach was not to be outdone. And just like she did, I make it every Rosh Hashanah.

I get up early in the morning and make and roll my dough paper thin, filling it with the same meat, schmaltz, onion and parsley mixture that I watched my grandmother make year after year as I perched on the step stool in her kitchen.  While she mixed and rolled, she would tell me stories about her family.  I would listen and ask her questions about her youth.  She would talk about playing the piano or about holiday and Shabbat meals in her house.   I would sit and watch her as she rolled her dough, cut it, filled it and made those beautiful little triangles, one after the other, all the same size and I would wait eagerly for my job which was to arrange the kreplach in layers between waxed paper until it was time to cook them.

So now the torch has been passed onto me, I make kreplach every year for Rosh Hashanah, the way she did. Her recipe, not written anywhere but in my brain from watching her year after year.   I make kreplach often throughout the year, but most of the year I cheat, using wonton dough because it’s easier and faster.  But, on Rosh Hashanah, I get up early and mix and roll my dough paper thin across our table and cut it, just the same way she did, with a dish towel over my shoulder to wipe my hands on.  I make her tzimmes with kneidlach too even though I hate tzimmes and never eat it, but it just makes me feel good to have it on my table and to have those same smells floating through my house.

Sometimes my daughter sits on our kitchen stool and watches me and the circle becomes complete.

Although my daughter never had the possibility to meet her great-grandparents, she is so much like my grandmother in spirit, so happy, so caring, always looking for the bright side.  I feel it is no accident that she is so much like her great grandmother and that I am grateful to again have such a beautiful spirit in my presence once again.  And by something as simple as making kreplach, I feel like I am building a bridge between them both, between my past, my traditions and my own beautiful family.

This year though, sadly, there will be no kreplach.

It’s been a rough few weeks for our family.  Our daughter, who has autism, is having an extraordinarily difficult time adjusting to school and to all the changes which have been thrust upon her over the last month.  She is so stressed out that she scratched her own skin raw and developed a skin infection.  The antibiotics are helping her skin to heal and my husband and I are trying as hard as we can to heal the rest of her, to give her the time to pause and the confidence to take the next steps and to find her way without it having such a toll on her.  On top of that my mother in law is in the hospital and my husband is trying to take care of his own parents and family as best he can.

So Rosh Hashanah will be a simple affair for us this year.  I will make kneidlach instead of kreplach.  We will take some food to my mother in law in the hospital and have a simple dinner at home.  We will wish each other a sweet new year.  I will spend the morning of erev chag, not mixing and rolling dough but with my daughter trying to help her restore her own balance.

Because while I love my holiday traditions and cling to them fiercely, the food is not the tradition.  My grandmother loved and nurtured me, she comforted me every single minute I spent with her.  The tradition is not food and a gleaming holiday table.  She cared for me,  she was a constant source of light and warmth in my youth, she was my soft place to fall, she made the difficult experiences I had easier.  Above all, she showed me in her words and deeds that everything would be all right

That is the real tradition I am trying to pass on.

Shana tova v’metuka.

About the Author
Dana has made it her habit to break cultural barriers and butcher languages wherever she goes. Born in Pittsburgh, Dana lived and worked in Tel Aviv for five years, before moving to the Netherlands where she lives with her husband and daughter in Amsterdam.