High Holy Days 2021
Updated: Sep 27
Dearest Elena (Moonpie),
This month we have two extremely important Jewish Holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Together they are the High Holy Days because they are the holiest days in the Jewish Year. Our books are Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride by Deborah Bodin Cohen and Sammy Spider’s First Yom Kippur by Sylvia A. Rouss. Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year. That means the Jewish new year begins again on this day. For that reason, Jews traditionally eat apples dipped in honey, so that we can start the year off with something sweet.
The book we are reading is about Engineer Ari who takes a very important ride from Jaffe to Jerusalem in 1892 when this ride happened for the first time. A month later, the railway officially opened in Israel, the Jewish homeland. This railway transformed the lives of Israelis forever. So it is historical. The trip from Jaffe to Jerusalem used to take 3 days, now it only took 3 and ½ hours. In the story, Engineer Ari is chosen to be the first person to take this ride. He pats the train’s boiler and says, “Are you ready? You and I are going to deliver Rosh Hashanah treats to the children in Jerusalem.” Then Ari brags to his friends Jessie and Nathaniel that all of these people came to see him do something so important. They are upset because they weren’t chosen. Ari brags again and says to them, “We can’t all be first.” He then tells himself not to worry about them. Engineer Ari is feeling so full of himself that he also forgets to say good-bye to his friends.
On this historic ride Engineer Ari makes many stops along the way. Many people ask him to carry their sweets to the children in Jerusalem. He carries a basket of apples, The green apples remind him of his friend Jessie that he has left behind. He also carries jars of honey so the children can use it for dipping their apples. The golden color of the honey reminds him of his other friend Nathaniel. He starts to worry if he had hurt his feelings. He carries challah gathered from a shepherd who was tending his sheep. Finally, he hears the strong, deep bellow of a ram’s horn, and adds a basket of ram’s horns to his collection. Blasts from a shofar ring in the Jewish New Year.
Dear Elena, when Mommy was in Israel she brought home a shofar for Papa, your grandfather. He proudly displays it on his mantle. The sound of the horn again reminded him of his friends that he was missing more and more as he traveled to Jerusalem. He wondered how he could apologize to his friends.
When Engineer Ari reached Jerusalem, the children surrounded the train and climbed on, lifting out all the Rosh Hashanah treats. Engineer Ari hardly noticed. He was thinking about his friends. He thought about how he hurt Jessie and Nathaniel’s feelings when he bragged. Then he thought about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, holy days when we apologize for our mistakes. We do teshuvah. This means turning ourselves around and promising to do better. So Engineer Ari patted the train again and said, “I need to turn you around so we can steam back to Jaffa. I want to find Jessie and Nathaniel and say I am sorry.”
Dearest Elena, the act of saying I’m sorry is how you change yourself for the better, and it is an expression of caring and love. That is really what the New Years, Yom Kippur, is all about. We pray and think about changing ourselves internally. So we become better people. This is doing teshuvah.
Now our second book Sammy Spider’s First Yom Kippur is also about saying I’m sorry. The first page says, “Saying I’m sorry.” Then the book tells of Sammy Spider in his web with his mother in the Shapiro’s house. Sammy asks his mother what is Yom Kippur is? She answers, “Yom Kippur is a holy day when people tell each other they are sorry for saying or doing something hurtful. On Yom Kippur, Josh’s family will spend the day in synagogue praying. Mr. and Mrs. Shapiro won’t eat until services are over at the end of the day.”
Why is this important to YOU? Because your family is Jewish and we do what Josh’s family does on Yom Kippur. We are in synagogue and we fast. We are ridding our body of our sins, the things we need to apologize for. We are praying to fill our bodies with more goodness, mostly to change ourselves for the better. In the end, Josh says sorry to his parents for damaging their house, and t the spiders for ruining their web with the ball he threw indoors.
Elena, this year you said your first full sentence, and what you said was so beautiful that I was thinking about it during the High Holy Days while I was praying. Daddy was lying on the couch and you were facing him. Mommy was sitting next to Daddy. Then you said, “I love you.” To know that this was the first sentence you wanted to express brings me such joy and gratitude. When I shared this with family and friends, they said it gave them the chills or brought them to tears.
You saying, “I love you” had a healing effect on Mommy and Daddy. These past years have been more difficult because of the pandemic, but your words helped Daddy and me to heal. This is another way of changing for the better, the purpose behind Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Thank you, my darling, for making these High Holy Days so special. I will never forget. Shana Tova.
Mommy and Daddy