Autobiographical Essays

Beate Caspari-Rosen, MD (1910 - 1995)

A Short Essay on Jewish Holidays

The Jewish calendar is a moon calendar. The day begins with the rise of the moon and ends the following day by sundown. The years are counted from the time God created the World, and according to that calendar, we live now in the year 5749. There are many holidays, often connected with biblical and historical events. Pesach [Passover] celebrates the exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt under the leadership of Moses and is celebrated for eight days. Purim, which usually occurs in March, celebrates the destruction of Haman, who had decreed the death of all Jews. They were saved through the  intervention of Esther, the favorite queen of Ahasuerus. Chanukah is celebrated in December in commemoration of the Maccabees, who led the fight against the Syrians. However, the high or holy holidays are Rosh Hashanah, or New Year, Yom Kippur, the day of atonement and every Sabbath or Saturday. The religious Jew does not work, write, ride in any vehicle or carry anything, not even money, since he is not allowed to buy anything. Saturday, the day God rested from his work, is  observed by many religions. Rosh Hashanah, or New Year is so holy, because on this day God in his book who should live or die in the coming year. The way of death is enumerated in great detail: by fire, flood, starvation, stoning, a punishment in early times [but still carried out in certain societies in 2007], pestilence, and so on. As a child I was very frightened by this prayer. On the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, your fate is sealed, but good deeds and prayers may change God's mind and the ten days between these two holidays are given to mankind to change their ways and to pray for forgiveness for all  the sins one has made. You also have to forgive all your enemies and start the new year with a clean conscience. Since the human body should not interfere with the prayers, Yom Kippur is also a day of fasting so that one should not think of mundane matters such as hunger or thirst.  

I was brought up in a religious household and some of my most treasured memories are connected with these holidays. I did fast on Yom Kippur, but my thoughts were more than ever connected with food and not with prayer.

In my husband's and my home the holidays became family days, when we all got together and had a large meal, especially as many of the holidays have their special food, such the Passover Seder evening meal, where hardboiled eggs in saltwater are served as a symbol of hard times, as well as bitter herbs. To make the meal more palatable four glasses of wine and unleavened bread or matzo are eaten [These explanations must be recognized as  “memory filters and memory sensations,” not learned religious accounts]. At Purim one eats Hamantaschen, a pouch-like cake filled with prunes. There are two other holidays. These are harvest celebrations, one took place in spring, the other in fall, in accordance with farming in ancient Israel [Palestine].


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