Posted in Contests, holidays, Judaism, Religion

The Beauty of Autumn

In memory of all those who perished 74 years ago today on Krystallnacht. When I reclaimed my soul’s birthright at age 18, I made sure to schedule my mikvah date for 9 November 1998, the 60th anniversary of Krystallnacht.

Today begins the Autumn’s Harvest Blog Hop, whose full rules and participants list you can view by clicking the above image. There are over 200 chances to win all sorts of prizes. Just comment on each participating blog with your e-mail for a chance to win:

1st Grand Prize: A Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet

2nd Grand Prize: A $50 Amazon or B&N Gift Card

3rd Grand Prize: A Swag Pack that contains 10+ paperbacks, ebooks, 50+ bookmarks, cover flats, magnets, pens, coffee cozies, and more!

I’ve been embroidering and cross-stitching for probably close to 25 years now, so I’d like to offer a customized embroidered boomark as my prize. My winner can choose what design and colors s/he wants (doesn’t have to be fall-related).

My favorite part of Autumn is all the back-to-back holidays. I go to a student center (which I attended as a community member long before belatedly returning to school), and here are some of the reasons I love their Rosh Hashanah services:

I’m not charged any money and I’m generally guaranteed a good seat on the women’s side. I don’t feel squashed in a gigantic fishbowl, among hordes of people who only come for the High Holy Days. And no one shakes us down for money in some High Holy Days appeal speech or pushes donation forms on us.

Eating exotic fruits like starfruit, dragon fruit, durian fruit, lychee, and pomegranate. It’s a tradition on the second night to eat a fruit you haven’t eaten in the past year, so you can still say the Shechehiyanu blessing, thanking Hashem for granting you life and sustaining you till this day.

The Haftarah reading (selection from the Prophets) of the first day. It’s one of my favorite Bible stories, Chana (Hannah) praying from her soul for a child, and being rewarded with the Prophet Samuel. I got the first part of my Hebrew name from this story. I didn’t choose Chana as my leading name solely because it happens to be my legal name in Hebrew. And of course, someday I’m going to name my firstborn son Samuel after my namesake’s son.

Hearing the shofar being blown. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been so spiritually-attuned, but every year when I hear that haunting, mournful sound, it’s like I can feel the heavens literally opening up and judgment opening up.

U’Netanah Tokef, a haunting, pivotal prayer which is also part of the Yom Kippur liturgy. You’ve probably heard of the middle paragraph, “Who shall live and who shall die, who by fire and who by water….”

Going to a neighbor’s awesome backyard fish pond for tashlich, the symbolic casting-off of sins by throwing breadcrumbs (or in our case, fish food) into a natural body of water. He’s got koi and a couple of other types of fish in his pond, which is a labor of love.

Thrice a year, on the two days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Aleynu prayer falls in the middle of the Amidah (long standing middle prayer of the service) instead of at the end. During these three days, it’s a custom to bow all the way to the ground instead of just bending at the knees and waist and lowering the head. (The Muslims got the custom from us.) I seem to be the only one in the women’s section who does it, but I love Hashem so much, and the chance to be that close to him/her.

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Because I’m so spiritual, my favorite holiday is Yom Kippur. I just love the spiritual euphoria that comes with fasting, feeling so empty and pure, knowing you have enough self-discipline to not eat or drink anything for over 24 hours, not needing or wanting food or drink, just praying and thinking spiritual, important thoughts all day long. I also love Kol Nidre, the haunting prayer sung at night. And when the shofar is blown at the end of the Ne’ilah (closing) service, I feel the heavens closing up.

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Only days after Yom Kippur, Sukkot begins. It’s an 8-day festival (7 days in Eretz Yisrael) where you’re supposed to live in a booth, a temporary dwelling with schach (greenery) on the roof. Most people don’t actually live 24/7 in the sukkah, nor do most people sleep in it, but you’re commanded to at least sit and eat all your meals in it.

My rabbi and his family love Sukkot, and always have such wonderful meals during the four Yom Tov days of the holiday. On the first lunch, we have sushi and salmon, and on the second lunch, we have falafel. And for the dinners, we have hot apple cider with cinnamon sticks. This year, we also had awesome kosher apple cider doughnuts for a lunch dessert.

Sukkot ends with a holiday called Hoshanah Rabah, the Great Hoshanah, and the day after that, it’s Shemini Atzeret, the 8th Day of Assembly. At my shul, we do a sort of sneak preview of the next night’s holiday of Simchat Torah at evening services, with abbreviated Hakafot (dancing circles with the Torah).

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Simchat Torah celebrates the end of the yearly cycle of Torah-reading, and immediately begins all over again. People dance in big circles with the Torah. Now that I’m pretty much Orthodox in all but name, I don’t really mind that at my shul, I can’t dance holding a Torah. Some Liberal Modern Orthodox shuls allow it, and eventually I’d like to find such a community.

Posted in 1930s, Atlantic City books, Cinnimin, Historical fiction, holidays, Judaism, Religion, Sparky, Writing

Sweet Saturday Samples—Rosh Hashanah Dinner

(My Ghosts blogfest post is here.)

I drew this book cover on 30 June 2000, when I was 20 years old. My drawings of people are actually a lot better than they used to be, since they used to have only dots for noses and sticks for hands! Left to right: Katherine Abigail Brandt (nicknamed Sparky), Cinnimin Rebecca Filliard, Maxwell Stanley Seward, Jr. (Max). Cinnimin’s nickname is pronounced SEEN-ee, not SIN-ee, and Sparky’s family has temporarily changed their surname from Brandt to Small to avoid anti-German sentiments. Her older brothers Fritz and Otto have similarly changed their names to Gary and Barry. Barry’s name is pronounced with a long A.

This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples is from The Very First, the chronological first of my Atlantic City books. It was far from the first one I wrote, but it’s the first one in terms of the timeline. Because Rosh Hashanah starts on Sunday night, I’m sharing a holiday scene from Chapter 12, “High Holy Days.” It’s September 1938, and Cinni has been invited to have dinner with Sparky’s family, who are living in her house after her father helped them leave Europe.

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Cinni usually spent Sunday evenings listening to the radio or reading a magazine while she ate candy.  It felt rather exciting to try something new and have dinner with Sparky’s family in honor of a holiday she’d only vaguely heard about before.  She hoped Mrs. Small was a better cook than Mrs. Filliard, and that none of the food would be too exotic or unpalatable.  Cinni never ventured too far from the food she was already familiar with, but knew something couldn’t become a new favorite food unless she tried it first.

Sparky had advised her to wait until they were done blessing their wine and challah, so she wouldn’t feel like a foreigner or embarrass herself.  Sparky also didn’t like the idea of an outsider watching their religious rituals and feeling on display like a circus animal.  Cinni patiently waited up in her attic bedroom till Sparky came to get her.  It was just as well to Cinni.  The idea of praying over food and delaying a good meal wasn’t her idea of fun.

“Welcome to our table,” Mrs. Small smiled. “I haven’t really met anyone in your family but your father so far.  I like how you all give us our space, but it’s nice to finally get to know one of our hosts.”

Cinni took in the candles on the table and the lavish display of food, not all of which looked that foreign.  She reached for the large challah in the center of the table and ripped off a huge chunk, stuffing it down her mouth.  As she was chewing, Sparky nudged her and passed her the most shocking thing she’d ever seen at a table, either in person or in the movies.

It was the head of a fish, all the scales still on it, its eyes wide open and bugging out.  Cinni struggled to regain her appetite as she set it in front of her and pushed it as far away as possible.

“You’re not gonna eat my mother’s wonderful fish?” Gary asked. “It’s certainly not dangerous to eat the scales.  It’s supposed to give you wisdom.”

“No thanks.  I’ll just take your word for it that it’s delicious.” Cinni reached for the plate of chicken and helped herself to a very large piece, then helped herself to salmon, various pieces of fruit, and several apple slices.

“You’re supposed to dip the apples into honey for a sweet new year,” Sparky said. “Even if you’re not Jewish, it’s a nice thought.”

Cinni shrugged. “I prefer hot fudge or caramel, but honey is good enough if you ain’t got the good sweets.” She plunged her apple slices into the small bowl of honey. “What are you people having for dessert?”

“Honey cake, honey cookies, fruit salad, and chocolate pie,” Barry said. “Don’t you want to try any of my mother’s wonderful vegetables?  You shouldn’t only eat meat, fish, and fruit.”

“I insist,” Mrs. Small said as she passed down a bowl of carrots with raisins, green beans, and stewed tomatoes. “Moderation is the key to life.”

Cinni took small servings from each dish, trying to make them just big enough so as not to appear as though she didn’t want to eat her host’s cooking, but not big enough so she’d be trapped eating too many vegetables.  As far as she was concerned, sweets were the food of the gods, and vegetables were just an unpleasant, unavoidable warm-up to the true main course.