Faith and Food: Life Lessons from Jewish Holidays

Who Will Live and Who Will Die


Shhh! Be quiet! Sit still! And tuck your shirt in! “I’m so hungry, when will this be over….”

If these are your childhood memories of the High Holidays, may I offer a collective apology on behalf of the Jewish people? Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur have the greatest record for synagogue attendance and the worst record for positive memories. Of course, we Jews are good at turning everything into a party, so hopefully, there are positive memories of your Rosh Hashanah dinners and your Yom Kippur break-fast. (See, we even figured out how to celebrate this religion’s most somber fast day with not one, but two dinners – before and after. We are good at this.)

But here we are adults – and our kids need us to give them positive memories of even this serious time of year. So let’s hunker down and get up close and personal with these days. Let’s start with a fact from the Torah: The 40 days leading up to Rosh Hashanah and culminating with Yom Kippur are called the “days of desire”… It is as though G-d is a king walking about his kingdom, visiting every farmer in the field to see how everyone is doing and to give them the opportunity to ask for whatever they need. The King is in the Field. Let’s unpack that for a moment. Rosh Hashanah – also called the day of judgment. How do you feel about judgment? Frankly, I don’t like it. No one wants to be judged.

The very process of judgment is uncomfortable and anxiety-prone. The judgment itself may be harsh and unwelcome. But what if you found yourself in, say traffic court (not that I’d know), and you look up fearfully, only to find that the judge is none other than your own father! Wouldn’t you immediately be filled with a sense of relief and joy? The Torah is telling us that this is exactly the case. God isn’t “judging” us on Rosh Hashanah because He is out to get us – the opposite! He is our loving King, our Father, who only wants what’s best for us. He is so close, almost close enough to touch, walking about to see if we are OK and to give us the opportunity to ask for anything at all. This, then, is why Rosh Hashanah is a holiday at all!

Who celebrates your day in court with brisket and challah? Jews, that’s who! Because we know the judgment is going to be OK. That’s our dad, after all, and He will only act in our best interests. Rosh Hashanah is actually the birthday of mankind, thousands of years ago – the same way God saw fit to create mankind, despite all our failings and mistakes, He sees fit to recreate us each year, to gift us with all the things we pray for: health, happiness, love, life, and success. After our meeting with the King – after we reconnect with this concept and recommit to being our best selves, we are ready to greet Yom Kippur. Notice we don’t talk about our mistakes of the previous year on Rosh Hashanah – not at all! The King is in the Field regardless of the past. This love is completely unconditional.

But now that we’ve emerged from Rosh Hashanah, we want to make the past right. Yom Kippur is that opportunity. Yom Kippur celebrates the joy of confronting our mistakes, of bringing them out from the shadows, of making them right. No sin is too great to bear; they are all listed there in the prayer book.

Immorality… gossip… disrespect of parents… Whether we ourselves are guilty, or we are taking communal responsibility – this is our opportunity. We confess not to any human but to God himself and pray for our slates to be clean. Yom Kippur is still a joyous holiday. We still greet one another with the Hebrew chag sameach! Happy holiday! Because as gut-wrenching as it is to confront our mistakes, the joy and relief of setting them right is unparalleled. Let’s get real about the High Holidays. It’s much more about remembering that we have a loving King, that no mistake is too great or too scary, that no one is perfect than it is about sitting still and stiff clothing.

Let’s bring back the joy of the High Holidays! Shana Tova!

This holiday’s recipe is offered by a Momentum staff member:

Beet Salad with Avocado

1 package pre-cooked beets
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
black pepper
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 oranges, sliced (or, one can mandarin oranges)
3 tablespoons hazelnuts or pecans, toasted if you have the time
1 ripe avocado, sliced thinly

Combine the beets with the olive oil, lemon juice, and oranges and toss. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Before serving, add the avocado and hazelnuts. Drizzle a bit more olive oil on top and enjoy!

If you are having a dairy meal, add some goat cheese on top, divine!

By: Ruchi Koval

MOMentum Trip Leader, Founder and Spiritual Leader of Congregation JFX, prolific author, and parenting coach.


Ruchi is a spiritual leader, parenting coach, author, columnist, and blogger. Ruchi teaches spiritual character development to adults and teens, mentors educators, and is also a musician. Ruchi and her husband have seven children and live in Cleveland, Ohio.


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