With the exception of a year I spent in Israel, my brother and I have always returned to Montreal to spend Rosh Hashanah with our parents and extended family. The nostalgia of celebrating together over my mom’s matzo ball soup, praying at the synagogue of my youth, and the annual ritual of catching up with old friends living in many diverse places but who all seem to gather in Montreal for the holidays, has long been a valued ritual in my life.
This year, the tradition is changing as my brother and his family are hosting a shinshin (young Israeli emissary) in Toronto, and the newest addition to the family has responsibilities at their synagogue and therefore cannot leave. And, so, for the first time, my parents and I will journey down the 401 and celebrate Rosh Hashanah in Toronto.
As I reflect on this change in our family’s ritual, there are three key take-aways I would like to share. Firstly, the Shinshinim program is a powerful expression of the importance of the Israeli/Diaspora relationship. Here in Ottawa, we have just welcomed Canaf Ahituv and Noga Weiss – our very first shinshiniot!
These two 18-year-old Israelis sacrificed spending the Jewish holidays with their friends and family, deferred the Israeli army for a year and are giving an extra year of service to the Jewish people. Canaf and Noga will spend their time teaching our children and helping to infuse the entire community with a Zionist spirit.
The Jewish Federation of Ottawa, with the support of an incredible donor family, is thrilled to introduce the Shinshinim program and is grateful to Canaf and Noga and all the host families who will be adjusting their family traditions to benefit the entire Jewish community. In other words, the Shinshinim program involves adjustments and, in the case of Canaf and Noga, sacrifice. But the benefits to Jewish peoplehood are immeasurable.
Secondly, as I contemplate celebrating an unfamiliar Rosh Hashanah in Toronto, and on two 18-year-olds leaving what is familiar to them to enhance Jewish Ottawa, I am reminded of the responsibility we all have to be welcoming.
Recently, Federation has been sharing results of a young family survey that was conducted in the spring. One of the findings is that a relatively low number of young families would recommend to others that Ottawa is a welcoming community (21 per cent). Moving the needle on this metric will require a collective individual, as well as communal, effort. This year, make sure to wish that unfamiliar face a Shana Tova when you walk by them at synagogue and don’t forget to introduce yourself to parents you don’t know as you drop your child off at school or at your child’s swim lesson at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre. We all have the power and, dare I say, responsibility, to welcome those newer to the community or those less immediately comfortable in our institutions.
Finally, I am reminded of the need to embrace tradition and change simultaneously. Celebrating Rosh Hashanah in Toronto will be different. My physical surroundings will be less familiar, the cantor may select distinctive tunes, and the rabbi will undoubtedly deliver a different type of sermon. But the same prayers will be recited and the same spirit of Jewish peoplehood will be present. In other words, the wrapping paper may be of a different variety (and the menu at the dinner table will surely include a plethora of fresh tastes), but what has bound our people together for thousands of years remains the same. Judaism has always placed a premium on welcoming the stranger. Israel has always been at the core of our belief system. And Judaism has always valued family.
This year, may we all embrace tradition and our heritage and the changes necessary to adjust and make positive new experiences for our children and for our children’s children.
Shana Tova Umetukah!