How do you experience Rosh Hashana?

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We asked community members to write a piece on how they experience Rosh Hashana through one or more of their senses. 
How do you experience this time of year? Through the smell of soup bubbling on the stove, or the sound of silverware clinking, or the sight of the Yom Tov candles flickering? Through the sound of a beloved grandmother wishing you
‘Gut Yontiff’ or the smell of Zeide’s aftershave? Or is it the taste of Mom’s cooking, or the feel of your tallis? Scattered throughout this month’s Chronicle are beautiful reflections by members of our community. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did. Since my column this month was quite heavy, I decided to contribute to this theme as well, so you can start your sensory journey through the Chronicle right here.

LINDY DIAMOND

Lindy Diamond

For me, a chag always starts with a list. 

A visual plan of things to get done ahead of schedule; how to organise my house just-right, an idea of a menu I want to serve and my thoughts on what to get the kids as meaningful presents.

For Pesach I use Excel — it’s a holiday that requires it. Rosh Hashana gets a good old-fashioned Word document — printed the day before the chag — added to after that with pen as the need, and a new idea, arises.

That Rosh Hashana Prep document sits on my desktop for around six weeks before Yom Tov, and it stays there until after breaking, when there is nothing more to plan. 

Then, it is reluctantly dragged into my personal folder to compare itself to previous lists, as a memory jogger should I need one the following year and, tongue-in-cheek, as part of the record of me adjusting my grandiose expectations of self to my actual capabilities through the years.

When First Night arrives, my other senses kick into action. The feel of crisp clothing on the skin, the sound of my voice getting louder and more insistent as the time to leave draws near, that printed list full of ticks and cross-outs and little notes. A spray of perfume; vanilla and cocoa, and then we hurry out the door.

We arrive into the effervescent glory of Rosh Hashana in a packed shul. The bubble of laughter and excited chatter that fills the spaces between the sounds of the choir and cantor and the well-prepared, meaningful speech given by the Rabbi. 

Then we burst out into the piazza, shouts of ‘Gut Yontiff’ fill the crisp night air, off to dinner, some wine, more laughter, a reminiscence. It’s a time for kissing children too much, hugging relatives and friends tightly and dreadfully missing those who are gone.

Lindy Diamond is many things to many people. She hopes to merit that most of those things are good.

HEATHER BLUMENTHAL

Heather Blumenthal

When one thinks of Rosh Hashanah it conjures up numerous memories, be that of the polishing of silverware, kneading the dough for round challah filled with raisins or apple or maybe even chocolate, the kitchen filled with the smells of chicken soup, sweet brisket, honey cake, the white linen table cloth splendid with decoration, being surrounded by our loved ones, the list goes on. After all what would Rosh Hashanah be without food and family? 

For me personally Rosh Hashanah is my favourite Chag… it is a time of awakening of all my senses. It is a time of reflection and introspection; it is about taking stock of what has happened in the past year and opening up my mind and soul to focus on what opportunities could present themselves in the future. What does the New Year have in store for me… dare I dream of new beginnings?

Being in shul over Rosh Hashana heightens my spiritual connection. Sitting with my community in prayer enhances my dedication to my community, allows me to re-evaluate my values and sense of character so as to allow me to make a difference both in my life and that of those around me. The philosopher and Torah Scholar, Maimonides tells us that the blowing of the shofar symbolises a new beginning… the loud blasts waken me from my slumber, they permeate my whole being, reminding me of why I am here, and of my relationship to G-d.

For me, Rosh Hashanah is a time to be cherished, a time to draw family close, to create memories that will be passed down from one generation to the next, to explore opportunities and holds spiritual promise to us all. Open all your senses and dare to dream!

Heather Blumenthal is director of the Cape Town Holocaust & Genocide Centre.

RONNIE CHORN

The High Holy days, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, are to me not only the ‘New Year’ but the anniversary of the Milnerton Hebrew Congregation. 

In 1979 a few of the Milnertonians got together to discuss the viability of a shul in the area. After much deliberation, it was decided that to be viable we needed 50 families at the outset. Eighty-four joined as foundation members and the Milnerton Hebrew Congregation opened its doors on Rosh Hashanah 1980 [5741] There are currently only three of the original founding members still in Milnerton. Today we are a proud congregation with approximately 270 members. 

I arrive in shul and, after donning my Kittel, commence with the service as the Chazan Sheini. Once Shacharit is over, it is time to take the Torah from the Aaron Hakodesh. I immediately start conducting the choir and, after Torah leining, continue conducting for the whole of Mussaf. I also interrupt my conducting to blow the Shofar for the congregation. The 2nd day continues similarly.

Needless to say, my involvement in the services is my absolute pleasure. The upliftment is incredible and I thank Hashem for giving me the strength and ability to continue to serve my community. I am grateful to my wife Leah for always being there to support me. 

To ask what the Yamim Nora’im mean to me is difficult to explain. I experience the most awe-inspiring feeling. A feeling of gratefulness that my family and I have been spared for another year. A feeling of serenity that seems that I am in Gan Eden with Hashem and at peace with my fellow man. Hashem has given us this opportunity to apologise to him for our wrong-doings. 

Unfortunately my three children and their children are not in Cape Town with us at this time, a time when I feel all family should be together.  

This is an opportunity we are given that I can continue to improve my observance as well as my ways. A time of reflection and to be grateful for what I have.

It’s great being part of a vibrant community.

Ronnie Chorn is an insurance broker and he teaches Barmitzvah in the afternoons.

MICHAEL WENER

Michael Wener

For the team at Goldies Deli, preparations for Rosh Hashana start many months before the chag.

Ordering produce, stocking shelves, menu ideation, creativity and taste testing are just some of the processes involved in making sure that the Cape Town Jewish community is fed. And we all know what a huge responsibility that can be!

The most heightened sense over this period is most definitely our sense of smell.

From the smell of freshly baked circular shaped challahs dotted with sweet raisins and chocolate chips, to the vinegary tang of herrings, gefilte fish and cabbage salad, it is a feast for one’s sense of smell. 

Roasted brisket cooking low and slow in the oven or sickly-sweet Tzimis packed full of prunes, sweet potatoes and carrots, all of the traditional dishes, take us back to days gone by when there was no kosher supermarkets or convenience food. 

It was all done by hand, by our bobbas and zeidas taking time to make the Yom Tov meal perfect.

Let us not forget the sweet syrupy seductive wafting smell of huge pots of taiglach which have often found themselves within the check-in baggage of ever an avid traveller on the way to Canada, Australia or London, for Yom Tov dinner. All these smells have become a part of the holy holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. 

The golden hue of Jewish penicillin accompanied by the sprinkling of cinnamon within a doughy kneidlach bubbling in gigantic steel pots cannot be forgotten either. While it is always a contest over who makes the best chicken soup, its presence at any Yom Tov meal is mandatory, and forms the perfect starter to a feast fit for a King or Queen.

Michael Wener started Goldies Deli in 2002 with his mother Goldie. He now runs Goldies with his wife Carol, in partnership with David and Justine Hepple. They also cater functions and supply kosher meals for service industry partners. The Press Bar & Grill is one of their other successful ventures.

JENNA BLOCH

Jenna Bloch

When I think of Rosh Hashana and the High Holy Days that follow, all my senses come abuzz; mostly smell, taste and hearing. 

Although no Jewish event is complete without an array of traditional Jewish foods, it is the sounds of Rosh Hashana that evoke the strongest memories. 

Hearing the shofar blasts is an integral part of the High Holy Days and is a call to prayer, a reminder to atone as we lead up to Rosh Hashana and a call to Hashem to remember us. 

Hearing the shofar awakens me and links me with generations before me who also heard the shofar and were reminded to atone and reflect on the year that has been and to focus ahead, l’dor v’dor.

As far back as I can remember the choir singing Ma’Tovo has always welcomed in a chag (unless it falls on a Shabbat) as we arrive in shul. Just hearing the words ‘Ma’Tovo’, heightens my emotions and takes me back to another world of sitting in shul with my mom and grandma. 

The shul choir, be it at Claremont Shul growing up or Marais Road Shul now, is a focal point of Rosh Hashana and hearing the tunes to ancient songs awakens me to daven and think about the year ahead. 

Then later, when we leave shul, my husband and son will still be singing, and the sounds of shul will follow us home. 

One of my favourite memories growing up is sitting in shul between my mom and grandma; my gran telling me to be quiet for Avinu Malkeinu. “Jentjie, it is my favourite part of the service”. I must have been 7 or 8, but it has always stuck with me. To this day as soon as I hear Avinu Malkeinu I am transported back to the lady’s Left Hand Section at Claremont Shul, across from my dad and grandpa and I am with my mom and grandma, davening for a year ahead filled with health and prosperity.

Jenna is a wife, mother and business professional, juggling all three with grace and humour.

GABI NUDELMAN

Gabi Nudelman

For me, the High Holy days are inextricably linked to celebrating at my parents’ house. 

While we eat in the dining room on Shabbat, Rosh Hashana is special as the many family members and friends who join us necessitate a bigger space. 

The downstairs ‘playroom’ space in my parents’ house is denuded of its usual couches, toys, tzatzkes, and musical instruments, and these are replaced with a long table and chairs we muster up from all the corners of the house. 

The table, once set, reflects the ‘most’ of everything: the most sparkly cutlery; the most gleaming glasses; the most pristine napkins; and the most colourful flowers. 

My mother sets two candelabra on the table and dims the lights, so that when guests enter the room, they are greeted with an ambience of peace. This is soon replaced by chatting, laughter and singing, as the lights go back up and the celebration begins. 

The High Holy Days are cherished moments, where the abundance lies not only in the setting and the food, but in the warmth between the people around the table.

My grandmother used to pose the question of whether the Jews keep the Shabbat, or the Shabbat keeps the Jews. 

While I have no definitive answer to this question, I know that my experiences around my parents’ Rosh Hashana table are integral to my Jewishness. 

Gabi is a born and bred Capetonian who is a wife, mother, daughter, sister and university lecturer.

MICHAL ILAN

Michal Ilan

Even as an Israeli, who lives a secular life in Israel, when I think of what the High Holidays sound like, the first sound I think of is the Shofar. 

Ever since I was a little girl, even though we did not go to shul regularly, we would always go to hear the Shofar. Until today, when I hear the shofar It is a different kind of listening that doesn’t happen through the ears but rather through the mind and the whole body and is truly special.

Since coming here on shlichut, we enjoy the shul choirs. I find myself sitting in shul with my eyes closed and letting their voices carry me.

But I think the sounds I associate with the High Holidays and miss the most being away from Israel, are those which are different then every day sounds and have a rhythm of their own. Those, which unify the whole country… It starts with everyone saying “Chag Sameach” to you, at the grocery store, the petrol station, the mall and everywhere you go. It continues with the loud sounds of cars filling roads and highways, hurrying to get to their destination before the chag begins. People coming out of cars, all dressed up and clean, carrying bowls of food. People calling from balconies to their family members and doors opening and closing as every house and flat is either locked and empty or filled with many people celebrating the chag.

Yom Kippur has other sounds. You know the chag begins when you open the windows and hear the silence. No cars drive in the streets and roads of Israel on that holy day. People walk to shul on the normally busy roads and the sound of cars is being replaced by chatter and by voices of kids on their bicycles and scooters.

Living in Israel it is easy to take these things for granted, expecting the sounds to always be there. Moving away for a few years helped me discover new things like shul choirs  but most of all helped me realise how blessed I am to live in a Jewish State and how I love and miss the sound of silence.

Michal Ilan is the Head of the Israel Centre in CT. She is a an educator, parenting coach, wife and a mother of two. Michal and her family arrived in CT two years ago and are excited for their third and final year of shlichut.

STUART KANTOR

Stuart Kantor

I am someone who really enjoys connecting with people and as a Jew I delight in connecting with fellow Jews. 

The High Holidays are, therefore, another wonderful opportunity for me to connect. 

Don’t get me wrong, connecting isn’t just about talking and buying time while others pray and dig deep for spiritual connection. 

My time at Shul and around the table with family and friends as we watch our kids delight dipping apples in honey and singing songs is deeply spiritual.

I love how at this time of year the weather is almost always good enough to walk home from Shul. 

On these days, I walk around the city feeling different. I am able to connect with my roots. I look at the city and those within it. There is so much history. We have hurt each other in war, business, even love; and, yet, we are connected. 

I think of my grandparents and their journey from distant lands and now I walk in honour of them and their struggles. 

As I walk from shul to my home, I watch the homeless, and those with homes and I know that the Jewish People are a light; that our actions inspire through the ripples of time.

The Jewish Journey is a profoundly complex one and The High Holidays is an exclamation mark.

As the Shofar shudders, bleats and wails it echoes within our bodies, minds and hearts. The little ones stand on benches or sit on their father’s shoulders and even if they haven’t been to shul all year, they cannot deny the fact that they are Jewish and part of something very special.

Stuart Kantor is a Director at Kanan Wealth (Pty) Ltd. He is a family man, who enjoys the ocean, the golf course, great fiction and poetry.

GEOFF COHEN

Geoff Cohen

When Lindy asked me to write about my Rosh Hashanah experiences, I thought it would be an easy task. What could be so difficult about sharing my Yomtov feelings and the impact it has on us?

For many years, Rosh Hashanah was an event that I looked forward to. Our lounge/dining room was transformed; long tables, beautifully decorated placings and everything associated with a traditional Yomtov feeling. I know that so many families around the Jewish world have similar experiences; crazy, noisy and vibrant festivities, filled with family, friends and kids of all ages. The noisy chatter and laughter, the cheering when the inevitable wine glass is knocked over and the smells of all the wonderful dishes cooked to perfection all create an atmosphere that I thrive on.

This year however I am viewing Rosh Hashanah in a very different way. I know that I am probably speaking for many South African families who may be approaching Rosh Hashanah with mixed feelings. We are now one of the many families in South Africa whose children have moved on to other countries around the world and we are celebrating Rosh Hashanah without them.

With one son in Canada and the other in the UK with my daughter-in-law and my two beautiful grandchildren, I too have to face the reality of Yomtov without my children and grandchildren. 

I can’t begin to imagine the pain of our grandparents and great grandparents who had to say goodbye to their children, relatives and friends as they escaped Eastern Europe with the probability of never seeing each other again. 

Our world has fast transport that can take us across continents in hours. Our digital world gives us opportunities to see our children and grandchildren on Skype, FaceTime and WhatsApp. I am grateful that my children and grandchildren will be at our Yomtov table albeit digitally.

So, my feelings leading up to this Rosh Hashanah are tinged with some melancholy thoughts. But I always try to look on the bright side and be as positive as possible.

Geoff Cohen is a husband, father and Head of Education at United Herzlia Schools

Lauren Cohn

Lauren Cohn

It is always at this time of the year that I find myself overwhelmed with gratitude; realising how quickly time flies and how we need to embrace the precious moments shared together with our family and friends.  

While my senses go into overdrive planning for the upcoming Chag, I feel like people can hear the screaming reminders and thoughts bombarding my brain. In my home, the sound of music bounces off our walls throughout each day. We dance often and laugh a lot. Each one of us have a very busy weekly schedule which turns our home into what feels like a railway station but somehow, we find the balance and reconnect each evening around our dinner table.

We all look forward to the tradition that comes with Rosh Hashana. It starts with the shopping for our ‘Yontif’ outfits just like I did while growing up;  touching the luxurious fabrics that made me feel like a princess. The multitude of aromas that permeate our home during the preparations which always bring me great comfort and pride. The distinct shtoonk of the chopped, pickled and Danish herring that my mom and I vowed to order-in after the previous year; the flavours of our chicken soup steaming up the windows calling everyone together to the heart of our home; the mouth-watering perfection of the the much anticipated brisket; the oh-so-freshly-baked homemade challot which greet our home every shabbos somehow smell that much more aromatic on these days.

While approaching the upcoming Chag, I appreciate and value all these sensory feelings. I focus on the warm glow emanating from the lit candles that hold us all so close to my heart. An abundance of love for those around me.

I admit that my most intuitive sense must be my sixth sense, always embedded in my heart and soul. That sense that keeps me connected to my brother who lives across the world and whom I know is experiencing my same ‘home’ traditions. While I wish that he and his family can join us for every chag, it is our ever extending dinner table that never seems big enough but nonetheless we continue to live by the saying ‘the more the merrier’. We welcome our family, friends and strangers to our table  and that unconditional feeling of love and gratitude cannot be more prevalent as I am blessed to have my parents sitting across from me. 

This is my sense of gratitude and appreciation, pureness and contentment which marks the beginning of another Jewish New Year. 

Lauren Cohn is a wife, mother and the Jewish Community Services Foodbank Co-ordinator (and Marketing assistant)

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