Keren David

Counting heads at Rosh Hashanah

This year we are counting heads and households. It's very strange.

September 17, 2020 15:17

We always had to count chairs at Rosh Hashanah.  Six around the dining table, two from the kitchen, some fold ups from the cupboard under the stairs.  How many did we need…12, 13, 14? Move up, make space! 

We had to count plates too, and napkins, and cutlery. Did we need to supplement the best set with every day knives and forks? Were there enough glasses on the table? How many people needed wine glasses? How many serving spoons? Has your father got the chrane? 

We were brought up to prepare for unexpected guests, to make sure that there was enough room and food that if a stranger turned up to shul on  the morning of the New Year, they would not be alone for lunch, tea or even dinner. "Waifs and strays" were always welcome, as well as family and friends. I cannot remember a Yomtov meal from my childhood that was just the immediate family  -  Mum, Dad, my brother and sister and me, five of us. That would have felt very strange.

But this year we are counting heads. This year we are counting households. Three of us in my house, my parents in theirs. My niece, my brother -  that makes seven. Oh no, seven! We can’t all be together for a meal at Yom tov, let alone invite others. We are having to compromise.

So, one day there will be tea for four, and the next day, tea for five. We’re hoping that the weather will mean we can sit in the garden.  There will be five for supper one night. That’s the very best we can do.

It won’t feel the same, says Mum, and I could cry. But we will be together, at least a little bit. And we will be doing our bit to help our country stay safe and well. That fits the spirit of the new year, even if it all feels wrong otherwise.

We will plan for next year, and for years to come – for Yomtovs when we can count chairs again. When the spirit of hospitality that Mum planted in us, with all those meals that she made for all those people,  will see us expand our tables again, and start catering for an army of guests. We'll go back to mass catering, we'll fry fish by the shoal. 

We'll tell future generations about all the years of Yomtovs, including the one when we couldn't be together. And about the mothers and grandmothers (yes, women did most of it)  who worked so hard for so many years to make Yomtov meals something special. 'Come back and have lunch with us!' we'll say when we meet someone in shul who is on their own.

We will eat together again, as Vera Lynn so nearly sang.  Rosh Hashanah is a much bigger deal than one year of a rule of six. 

September 17, 2020 15:17

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