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The change was subtle but undeniable. A slightly deeper shade of brown; carrots cut lengthwise rather than sliced; some scattered sprigs of rosemary. Any other day of the year, such a discreet rift in recipe might have gone unnoticed. But this was not any other day of the year - this was Rosh Hashana.
"What's up with the brisket, grandma?" my preteen son asked, echoing my suspicions that bubbe's famous brisket - the eternal pillar of my family's High Holy Day feasts - had undergone an unprecedented face-lift.
"I thought I'd try something a little different this year," answered my mother (who had recently been possessed by Rachael Ray of the Food Network).
"But I like the old brisket," said my younger son.
"Me, too!" agreed my daughter.
"Oh, no. Not the brisket!" added the eldest of my grumbling foursome.
"Shh, I'm sure it's delicious," I said, trying to mask my own disappointment in the demise of the dish of honor.
Don't get me wrong. It's not that my kids and I didn't appreciate the wonderful meal my mother had prepared. (We did.) And it's not that the updated version of bubbe's famous recipe wasn't a legitimate improvement over the original. (It was.) It's just that it didn't matter whether Rachael Ray herself had prepared that brisket - it wasn't about taste at all.
In fact, prior to that particular evening, my children had scarcely given our traditional Rosh Hashana brisket a second thought. It was not until it went missing - and was suddenly replaced with a swankier roast - that my kids came to appreciate its significance in their lives.
Please! You may be thinking. How can you possibly suggest that a brisket could have a significant impact on someone's life? But it wasn't just any old brisket; it was bubbe's famous brisket. The same unwavering recipe that had accompanied my family's New Year for as long as my children could remember - for as long as I could remember. In the predictable presence of bubbe's brisket on our Rosh Hashana table, my children found steady ground; a sturdy link between their past, present and future; and a safety net woven out of knowing where they have been and where they are going.
No, I'm not being melodramatic. Oodles of experts believe that it is in the simple repetitions of life - not in the grand black-tie affairs - that our children find the stability and continuity they need to thrive in an unpredictable world. That it is ritual and tradition - not kiddie stress management seminars or pint-sized yoga classes - that builds a vital sense of emotional security in our kids.
Of course, if you asked Tevye the Milkman of Fiddler on the Roof fame, the power of tradition is not breaking news. Yet, in our rocket-paced, technology-based, achievement-driven, media-ridden society, the presence of family rituals in our children's lives may be more integral to their emotional well-being than ever before.
Fortunately, Jewish life is positively bursting at the seams with ritual opportunity for modern parents: lighting the Hanukka candles, welcoming Elijah to our Seder table, eating halla on Shabbat - all these experiences fill our children's lives with spirituality, security and predictability. Yet the defining rituals of the New Year play an especially vital role in our children's overall well-being, as they also carry meaningful symbolism and essential life lessons. What follows are a few of our rich Rosh Hashana traditions and the ways they strengthen and prepare our children for the coming year - and far beyond.
TEN NEW traditions to help ensure your family enjoys all the sweet rewards of the Jewish New Year (while simultaneously taking advantage of the bountiful benefits of family rituals). Here are some outside-of-the-box, ripe-for-the-picking Rosh Hashana traditions:
1. Visit a paint-it-yourself ceramic shop and decorate kiddush cups, apple plates or honey bowls together.
2. Put together baskets of apples, honey, raisins and other sweet treats and deliver them as a family to a hospital or nursing home.
3. Give the world a birthday present by planting a tree. (You'll have a whole Rosh Hashana grove before long!)
4. Let your kids design your Rosh Hashana tablecloths, place mats and halla covers using fabric crayons or markers. (Hint: for younger children, try cutting an apple on its side to reveal a star in the middle, dip the fruit in fabric paint and let your little stars stamp away.)
5. Take a Rosh Hashana family nature hike. Sit down in a shady spot and have everyone share what he or she appreciates about one another.
6. Go apple picking. Use your haul to make Rosh Hashana apple cakes, kugels and other goodies.
7. Have a shofar-blowing showdown.
8. Gather family pictures from the past year, and work together to create a "year-in-review" collage.
9. After lighting the Rosh Hashana candles, join hands and let everyone share hopes and dreams for the coming year.
10. Leave chocolates on your children's pillows every Rosh Hashana eve along with a note wishing them a sweet New Year.
The writer is an internationally syndicated parenting columnist, award-winning Jewish educator and mother of four. This article originally appeared in the World Jewish Digest.