Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Rosh Hashana in Berlin

Rosh Hashana! I've been wanting to write about our Rosh Hashana and tonight at sundown Yom Kippur starts, so it's now or never.

If we'd been in Bloomington we probably would have gotten together with our neighbors, several of them Jewish/non-Jewish hybrid families like us, and done something. Something lovely. Before we moved to Bloomington we never celebrated Rosh Hashana at all, but in the first weeks we were in Bloomington we were invited by the fabulous Jenny'n'Michael neighbors to join their group of families who celebrated together. And it was a wonderful thing to be taken in there in that early, hard, somewhat lonely time in Bloomington.

So here we are in the early, hard, somewhat lonely time in Berlin. But now we celebrate Jewish holidays almost as a matter of course. That group in Bloomington is basically the reason why my kids consider themselves pretty Jewish. Culturally. Or something. It's still constantly up for debate and definition. Being pretty much unreligious, and culturally Baptist being a relatively unavailable category, they do feel a belonging as Jewish. (Interesting conversation last night with their cousin who grew up here in Germany, has a Jewish *mother* unlike them so theoretically gets a better chance, but at this point anyway does not feel Jewish at all.)

Anyway, I thought, our group isn't here, our people that we celebrate with aren't here, so let's go to the temple for services, something we do not do at home. Sister-in-law J had been saying she was interested too, to go with her baby and her partner, and I thought we could maybe take along the boys' cousin. But then my own family rebelled, essentially for reasons of cultural sensitivity. The synagogues here are a little touchy about people coming to ogle and watch, be tourists. Understandably. Jews are a little bit of a curiosity in this country I guess, to go along with the more sinister underlying worry and fear. (The Jewish preschool around the corner from us has a police officer on duty all the time, patrolling in front.)

So my family thought we'd be basically tourists, voyeurs, and we had no place there. (There are I think 6 or 8 congregations here and online I had found the little one that is kind of progressive, where I thought we might be welcomed.) So it was on me.

And here's the interesting part: even though there was some tussling with the kids because I decided what and how we were doing things while they were away during the day, and communication was not perfect, and basically they were out playing soccer beyond the time when I wanted them home - even though there was that, and the evening ended up being a little much for them in terms of reading and talking - it was wonderful! 

As you know if you've been reading this blog, I've been flailing and unfocused and not knowing what to do. I wasn't really having dinner myself because of weight watchers the next morning, but I pulled together a lovely dinner for the family if I do say so myself, with lots of support from dear hubby, but even more so, it was festive, with one of the umpteen starched white bedsheets from the closet as a tablecloth (no tablecloths; also the sheet doesn't look quite as good as it did before), and candles, and I found the prayers on the web (didn't bring all our books and things), and what we'd never done in Bloomington, I found the Bible readings that go along with the day and we sat down and read them!

My children, not being Baptist missionary children, have had a childhood somewhat different from mine, and strange to say they aren't used to sitting down every day and reading the Bible as a family. (Felix was shocked when I said we were going to read - he said, do we have a Torah? It turns out we brought two Good News Bibles (one of them a Study edition) - since we Christians include the Torah in our Bible then yes, we do have a Torah.)

So we read:

Genesis 21, where Isaac is born to Abraham and Sarah
Samuel 1:1 to 2:10, where Hannah prays for a child, says she will dedicate him, has Samuel, and then her prayer following that, and finally
Numbers 29:1-6, which has a lot of numbers

Then we had the family meeting we had for some reason not been able to have the previous night (this was Monday and we usually have them on Sundays).

The kids were not thrilled about sitting down to read but they did like the festive table, and it was a lovely evening, hubby and I thought. This is the kind of thing where I don't flail but it makes sense to me to do; I can focus and make it happen. And even though I don't see us sitting down to read the Bible all the time I'm so glad we did it this time, and it was interesting to talk about the readings, and the context, and the background, and the stories. Also about the fact that my family did this every day when I was growing up - this is strange to the kids. 

That was Monday night of last week, first night of Rosh Hashana.

Night #2 we had more of the family - the baby niece and her parents, along with nephew #1.

The sheet/tablecloth was almost clean again, though in no way starchy like night #1.

Candles were out, table was enlarged, food was festive.

We did the prayers again, though the complication was that I had been unable to find a Hebrew/German set on the web (we had Hebrew/English for ourselves the night before). So for the German relatives we did our best to translate but it was tricky. (Sis-in-law remembered all the prayers from growing up and other celebrations in years gone by but we were trying to interpret and explain for her partner; we had a hard time with "repentance" but finally husband came in from the kitchen and said it was Buße [that is by the way the religious translation; the everyday word is "Bedauern", but then again, that is more for "regret", since "repentance" itself is a more religious word I would say].)

There you have it - our Rosh Hashana in Berlin. Here's what I think it did for us:

for me, gave me focus for a couple of days, something I could accomplish, pull together, care about, and do well. Sorely needed!

for husband and his sister, a sense of cultural belonging that could connect them back to their family of origin and that they could share forward with their kids.

for the kids, something to be annoyed by, but finally they do love the festive nature and enjoy the family get-together and, though they might deny it, the prayers I think, some parts of which are now very familiar to them - and for Felix specifically, since he is having Jewish religion classes in school it all connects and make sense.

for the baby, something to start to know. For her father, a new experience and exposure to some of his partner's traditions.

for our nephew, we wanted to also bring him in to become familiar with the celebration but he got here too late for the prayers and we didn't do the Bible readings the second night because there was too much else going on, I had to leave for a phone meeting, baby had to get home to bed, there was a belated birthday celebration . . . 

Not sure how much repenting actually happened. We are majoring in the form here, content still mostly to come, though at least we talk about it.

On to the next. Felix's religion teacher says he really shouldn't go to school tomorrow. He and I were talking about whether he might do a half-day fast, which apparently is what you do when you're his age.

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