St. Louisans on favorite New Year memories, reflections

Cantor Joshua Finkel

By Eric Berger, Staff Writer

For some St. Louis Jews, Rosh Hashanah is all about the apples. (Honey is good, too.)

For others, it’s a mix of the longstanding Jewish practices and traditions — and the things that have become traditions unique to their own families. 

And then, of course, there are those who treasure it most for its significance as the holiday that ushers in the Jewish New Year. 

To get a better sense of how local Jews connect with the first High Holy Day, the Jewish Light stopped by the Tour de Fun on Aug. 26 at the Millstone Campus near Creve Coeur, the nearby Jewish Community Center on Sept. 4 and reached out by phone and email to others, asking for favorite memories of Rosh Hashanah and/or what the holiday means to them. 

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Josh Finkel, cantor of Shir Hadash Reconstructionist Community

I’m a cantor, so I associate Rosh Hashanah with some of the most beautiful and epic and spiritual music in our tradition that we really only visit once a year at the Yamim Noraim (High Holy Days). 

A lot of people like to complain about folks who only come out on Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur, but I love seeing those people. It’s an opportunity for me to give them something and to see their faces and learn their names and get to know them because they are such an important part of the Jewish community. 

I think going to shul with my dad as a kid and hearing Stan Estrin blow the shofar at Traditional Congregation. Stan blew with a lot of ruach and a lot of spirit and for me it was a bracing and clearing out of cobwebs kind of moment, and it woke me up as a child to the kind of Judaism that I could grow up into.  

Anya Tullman, 17, senior at Ladue Horton Watkins High School

I can remember learning about apples at my Jewish preschool in New York City, right around the high holidays. My teacher set up three apple tables, one for red honey crisp, another for yellow golden delicious and a final table for green Granny Smith. On each table, the apples were cut into tiny pieces with toothpicks stuck into them. My friends and I raced around the room, eagerly sampling each type and comparing their respective tastes like expert food critics. Suddenly, our teacher revealed a final surprise: honey to accompany our apple. We squealed in delight and devoured our snacks as we learned about the meaning of apples and honey for a sweet new year. I’ll be honest, I paid more attention to my golden delicious than the lesson. Today, 15 years later, I eat apples and honey and reflect on that day at Park Avenue Synagogue.  

Carly Sparks, psychotherapist

I think it means new beginnings and teaching our kids to set goals. We like to reflect on the roses and the thorns of a year — what went well, what didn’t go well. That’s what Rosh Hashanah is about: personal goals. But also as a family, trying to figure out where we are going and making good use of our time together and feel like we are growing as people.  

Jessica Wax, Covenant Place program and engagement manager

One memory is of apple cake that my grandmother made and that I made with my mom. And I like to now bring some of those traditions into my family.

And my daughter was born 10 years ago, right before Rosh Hashanah, and it’s always around her birthday, so it’s really when we became a real family with children. 

Jennifer Bernstein, development director at the National Council of Jewish Women-St. Louis

I won’t tell on my dad for bringing a little radio to listen to Broncos’ games when I was growing up. He stopped doing it after we started appreciating Judaism more. 

Leo Goodfriend, 16, junior at Clayton High School 

Rosh Hashanah means “beginning of the year,” and to me this is exactly what the holiday is about. It’s about getting a fresh start. Any mistakes or regrets about the past year are forgotten, and one can take a step back and think about how they can improve as a person. After all, someone should not be defined by the mistakes they have made. Instead, they should be defined by whether or not they have used these mistakes as learning opportunities. 

Erin Greenblatt, 10

It was really funny in 2015 when my Uncle Steve was reading in the prayer book and made a hilarious mistake and everyone at the table started laughing. He was trying to pronounce a word and then he said something like, “Shahhoooa,” and it was really funny.

Hannah Maurer, 18, Parkway Central grad now a freshman at Marlboro College in Vermont

This is the year where I have to choose how I want to celebrate: whether in a new congregation or simply live-stream from the comfort of my dorm. It’s the year where I ask the cafeteria to serve pears and honey (I’m allergic to apples) so I can enjoy a sweet treat of my own. Lastly, it’s the year where I can reflect on my life as a Jew and where it’s led me to thus far, even if it is a mere 2,000 miles away from my home congregation. Though my location has changed, my Jewish-ness has increased significantly and I’ve only become more passionate about celebrating this holiday.

Zach Dalin, photographer, DJ

A favorite Rosh Hashanah memory for me is just being with family. It’s a nice time just to get together with aunts and uncles and cousins and people who may not be living in St. Louis anymore but that come back in town for the holidays. It’s very meaningful to be with family and friends in that time. 

Ethan Kalishman, 16, junior at John Burroughs School

The holiday culminates in an annual family luncheon. This is my favorite part of the day because I am able to spend time with my loved ones in a casual, easy-going, food-filled environment. On a typical day, having a special mid-day meal would be difficult but because Rosh Hashanah allows all of us to take time off from our commitments we are able to celebrate and enjoy each other. That is why I enjoy the holiday — it brings people together on a happy and joyous occasion.

Yocheved Witten, nurse practitioner

The year I was in Jerusalem on a gap year between high school and college, when we were in shul, just everyone there davening together, there was a real sense of unity. We were all uniting under God, and it was a powerful feeling.

Now I have three kids and, it’s all about family. Having them come home and dipping the apple in the honey and talking about the different symbolic foods that we eat and having a fresh start to a new year.

Leonid Pernik, landlord 

Rosh Hashanah means the Jewish New Year. It means we need to go and pray to God for a good life for our children and for the best we can ask from God for our life.

Usually I go to Nusach Hari B’nai Zion, and I like the people and the meals. We eat apples and honey and the family comes together.

Libby Routman, retired administrator

It is a time of reflecting on the past and looking forward to a hopeful future and in addition it also has the aspect of being with family and friends to celebrate the holiday, so it can be for individual reflection and sociability with family and friends. 

I remember cooking a lot of food. I always had like a Thanksgiving dinner, with all the turkey and the trimmings and the round challah with raisins to make it more festive.

Mark Diamond, retired from restaurant industry

I think the whole holiday season is just kind of a reset, a time to reflect on the year and make some goals for the coming year. It’s a time to be with family and be grateful for what we have. 

Bill Motchan, journalist and photographer

Rosh Hashanah for me has always meant getting out of school. I grew up in a small town in southern Illinois that was a Baptist town, and we were the only Jewish family, other than the newspaper publisher. When we moved to St. Louis and I realized that you got out of school on the High Holidays, I thought, ‘Oh, this is pretty cool.’ I went with all my Orthodox friends to the Loop to Bais Abe, and we would go to shul for a little bit and then ditch shul and go to Fatman’s Shoe Shine Parlor and play pinball all decked out in our suits and tallises. There we were five Jewish kids, ditching shul, playing pinball. 

Eldad Bialecki, gastroenterologist 

Our biggest enjoyment is in trying not just to have fun with the apples and honey but actually trying to understand the meaning of it and to take something away with us. We try to mix the fun and excitement of beginning a new year with health and happiness, but at the same time, try and understand that it’s a little bit of a scary time where we ask for important things from God for a healthy year for our family and for ourselves. So it’s a mix of happiness with a little bit of fear. 

That’s something we share with our children — to not only have fun but to also have some awe.

There is one child of my mine named Jonah who is 7 and has for some reason mastered the shofar blowing. 

His trick? Jonah says, “You put your lips together and blow, like not completely together but almost together and then blow.”