I can’t help but wonder why Hallmark and the retail world at large haven’t co-opted the Jewish New Year. True, while there may “only” be some 5 to 7 million Jews in the U.S. (depending on who’s counting), Rosh Hashanah is a particularly important holiday in the Jewish calendar.
Many Jews spend Rosh Hashanah at synagogue, immersed in prayer, self-reflection, repentance, kicking off ten straight days of “awe.” But it’s a family holiday, too, usually celebrated at home with a big family dinner. So why aren’t there any light-up shofars or tasteful Happy New Year banners to be found leading up to the big day?
Of course, depending on where you live, you may come across a dusty box of matzah on the shelf of your local grocery store in a well-intentioned, if misguided, attempt to acknowledge Rosh Hashanah (along with every other Jewish holiday).
But, fear not. In lieu of tacky, ready-made accoutrements, you can design your own Instagram-worthy Rosh Hashanah celebration. Keeping in mind that goal is to create joy and lasting memories, I have tried and tested a few ideas to make your Rosh Hashanah celebration personal and memorable.
Conduct an Apples and Honey Taste Test
Not all apples — and not all honey — are created equal. So here’s a fun way to see which varieties your family really prefer. Procure as many types of honey as you can (but remember: this is not a reality cooking show, so don’t go crazy). Put out a variety of sliced apples to dip and create your own voting method, too. For a bit of extra flair, add a blindfold. The honey with the most votes will receive the honor of the blessing for a sweet new year.
Create a Rosh Hashanah Craft Museum
Remember all those New Year crafts your kids brought home over the years from Sunday school or day school? It’s time to unearth those boxes filled clay honey pots, handcrafted Happy New Year cards, and paper apple mobiles. Bonus if you can excavate your own childhood Rosh Hashanah relics from your youth. And if kids never made them — or you pitched them years ago — you can always make new Rosh Hashanah crafts, like this honey jar or shofar. Cluster these items in a special museum-style display for all to enjoy. Heart strings will be tugged, guaranteed.
Throw a Birthday Party for the World
Rosh Hashanah is not just a Jewish holiday — according to the Talmud , it is the birthday of humankind and the world. Considering that the universe is a pretty significant creation, some special treats to commemorate this day hardly seem like too much effort. Whether you celebrate with a spherical cake frosted to look like planet Earth, or a candle on a single cupcake, or even just a Happy Birthday banner, let it spark a conversation about what each individual’s part can be in making the world a better place — the ultimate birthday gift.
Make a Rosh Hashanah Tablescape
If you are overwhelmed just thinking about setting an elaborate table for the holiday, just remember that you are going to want to eat at some point, so it might as well be at a striking and impactfully set table. But that doesn’t mean an overwrought one. Small touches can go a long way, like an apple-print tablecloth; a few carefully placed honey or bee-themed items; a decorative tray filled with apples and pomegranates; a Shofar as centerpiece. Tip: Use your imagination, not Google.
Spark Meaningful Conversation with Reflection Cards
Rosh Hashanah is a mini workout for the soul, so you should probably break an existential sweat self-reflecting, soul-searching and resolution-making. Like any good workout, it will transform, strengthen, and fortify you for navigating your daily life in the year to come. Write some open-ended questions on cardstock, and arrange them on your table for your family or friends to select and answer aloud. Some examples: What were your biggest mistakes over the last year? Greatest achievements? What brought you the most joy? Which moments felt deeply meaningful? What have you resolved to do differently next year? What you write is up to you — just make sure that each question can be answered by a responder of any age, and keep in mind that Rosh Hashanah is not just about looking backwards, but is an opportunity to look forward as well.
I hope you’ll use one or all of these ideas to set the stage for a sweet and meaningful New Year. And, full disclosure: While they’re undoubtedly fun, none of these ideas will absolutely guarantee that you will be written in the Book of Life — but they may get you featured in Martha Stewart Living.