The War on Rosh Hashanah

Posted on 14 Sep 2015 at 9:35am

Rabbi Steve Fisch holding the Torah at Congregation Beth El Binah’s new home, Northaven United Methodist Church

Every year, people try to diminish Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, the celebration of the creation of the world. It’s as if Texas has declared a War on Rosh Hashanah.

You know this a real thing, because there are no Rosh Hashanah displays up at Dallas City Hall. Not a single store at NorthPark has a High Holiday window — not even Neiman Marcus. Didn’t the Neimans and Marcuses found Temple Emanu-el? How disrespectful to the company’s founders!

No fireworks display was scheduled anywhere in Dallas County to mark the new year. I drove around Preston Hollow, and not a single house had its holiday lights up. Where were the groups of children going house to house singing Rosh Hashanah carols — those mournful minor key dirges we celebrate the new year with — interrupting our dinners and reminding us, “Oh crap, I hope the rabbi’s sermon on Monday doesn’t drag on and on.”

Yes, make no mistake about it. Something’s up. But then I figured it out.

While covering a story last week, someone said to me, “Happy holiday.” Then later that day, a friend said to me, “Have a happy Rosh Hashanah.”

But it hit me when it happened in my office. Before I left for the weekend, people in my office said, “Oh, you’re off next week. Have a nice holiday.”

Yes, I’m off, but … but “Have a nice holiday?”

On Sunday, before leaving for temple, I had the TV on and not a single Fox News reporter said, “L’shanah tovah tikatevu.”

Not one.

And I listened to Fox News for a long time, because, well, I watch Fox News so you don’t have to. But on Erev Rosh Hashanah, I was on a mission, trying to figure out if Fox News was part of The War on Rosh Hashanah.

Obviously they are.

So here’s a question I want my anti-Rosh friends to answer. Would Jesus have said, “Happy holiday?” (Okay, English wasn’t invented for more than another thousand years, but apparently, according to Fox, Jesus walked around saying, “Merry Christmas” to everyone.)

Well, I did what any good reporter would do and did a little digging and you know what I found?

For his first Rosh Hashanah greeting to the Jewish community after his election, President Barack Obama said, “L’shanah tovah tikatevu.” And there you have it. Obama said it. Fox won’t.

Thanks Obama.

Well, I’d like to declare a truce in the War on Rosh Hashanah.

After thinking about it, “happy holiday” is better than the greeting I used to get when I worked for a right-wing Christian company here in Dallas called Tom James, a custom clothing company.

Around the holidays, I was always greeted with the more delightful, “You goddamn Jews get so many holidays.” By multiple people including the very religious division president. I was young and naïve and didn’t keep a record of the intolerance so when I left, I didn’t file a lawsuit against the bastards.

“L’shanah tovah tikatevu” means “may you be inscribed for a good year.” Long story short, on the High Holidays — Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur next week — Jews ask people they’ve wronged for forgiveness so God will inscribe them in the book of life for the coming year. (Note to my office: Don’t hold your breath waiting).

Rosh Hashanah literally means Head of the Year — new year. Yom Kippur doesn’t mean day of herring. Yom means day and kippur comes from the verb to atone. So Yom Kippur is usually translated as Day of Atonement.

Yom Kippur is a fast day so the traditional greeting in English is, “May you have an easy fast.”

But no one really expects anyone to remember all that. Happy holiday, have a good holiday, seasons greetings, Merry Christmas — those are all better than one that begins with what I used to get at that awful company I used to work for.

Yes, any holiday greeting is welcomed. And any question is welcomed. “What does this holiday celebrate?” shows interest. And even for Yom Kippur, a holiday spent as a day of prayer and reflection with synagogue services that last the entire day, “happy holiday” makes more sense than saying, “Have a miserable holiday.” We know how to translate.

So truce?

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