Sunday, August 30, 2009

New Year at the Pier

Find out about our Teaching Author Book Giveaway Contest running all this week! Click here for details.

Happy New Year! This week we’re celebrating the new school year and our very own April Halprin Wayland’s book, New Year at the Pier--A Rosh Hashanah Story, which is about another kind of new year--the Jewish New Year.

Stay tuned for a series of Q&As from the TAs (say that five times fast) about the gestation of this touching story.

Jeanne Marie:
April, can you tell us a little about your religious identity and why you wrote this book?

Although this book is about the Jewish New Year, it’s really about universal themes of forgiveness and apologizing, friendship and multi-cultural ways to celebrate new year.

Growing up, my Jewishness was all about big hugs from Uncle Raphael, Uncle Izzy, Uncle Avrum, Uncle Chucky, Uncle Davie, Uncle Moish, Uncle Max, Uncle Art, Aunt Fanny, Aunt Cissy, Aunt Sue, Aunt Frances, Aunt Polly, sitting at the “cousins table,” the smells of matzo ball soup, the bright magenta color and hot sting of horseradish, the dark shadow of the holocaust, overlapping layers of talking, laughter, holiday songs, and Yiddish words seasoning conversations, of flickering candles.

Above all, being Jewish meant that part of my job on earth was tikkun olam—to repair the world. My relatives modeled tikkun olam every day.

I’m married to Gary, a non-Jew who embodies tikkun olam in every action, in every breath. We are both political activists in an effort to repair the world, and we weave Judaism into the fabric of our family throughout the year in other ways, too:

On Friday nights, our family goes to our favorite hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant. I’m not sure how Jewish tacos are, but it’s our way of marking the start of the Sabbath, a time of rest and renewal.

In December, we have an annual latke party, inviting neighbors to bring electric skillets, spatulas and aprons. Hanukah latkes are yummy hot-from-the-frying-pan potato pancakes, served with apple sauce or sour cream. We set up latke-making stations, cook, gab, sing, bless the candles, play the dreidle game and eat!

Gary’s a CPA and his busiest time of the year is near Passover. For many years, my son and I traveled overseas during his spring break, where I taught writing and poetry workshops. I’ve taught in schools in Germany, France, England, Italy, Switzerland and Poland, and every year we celebrated Passover with new friends. (One memorable year we ate Passover dinner on the floor of our Berlin hotel room…ask me about it sometime!)

Tashlich is a ritual during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The exact date of Rosh Hashanah varies—in 2009, it’s Sept. 18-20th. When synagogue is over, nearly two hundred of us will walk to the pier, sing songs, and fling pieces of bread into the ocean.

Each piece of bread represents something we wish we hadn’t done in the past year. Tossing the bread (tashlich means “to throw”) is a way of letting go of the past. It represents the footwork we’ve done to sincerely apologize and compensate for any wrongs we’ve done, cleaning the slate for the New Year.

Tashlich is outdoors, in a beautiful setting. Tashlich is community, a huge component of the juiciness of Judaism.
Tashlich is about healing the world, beginning with me.

Tashlich my favorite Jewish celebration. I’ve dragged many friends to the pier so they could taste its poetry. I wanted them to feel the wind, hear the gulls, experience the relief of tossing each piece of bread.

How could I not share all this in a picture book?

Readers, don't forget to post your new-year goals to enter for a chance to win April's wonderful book! Click here for details.

image credits:
interior picture from New Year at the Pier © Stéphane Jorisch 2009

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