Parshot Festivals

Rosh Hashanah schools’ creative writing competition

  • GirlsatShul 2
Who better to give us their creative thoughts than high school scholars? We called on the schools to send us their best articles or pieces of creative writing about Rosh Hashanah 2020. We selected these three, although it was a tough decision as all the work sent was excellent. – Editor

Staying apart to save lives

Natalie Cohen

Ma Nishtana HaRosh Hashanah Hazeh (What is different about this Rosh Hashanah)? Well, for starters, there are no more Rosh Hashanah family lunches with the grandparents, no more delicious brachot (blessings) at shul, and no more embracing as we wish one another a joyous, ‘Chag Sameach’.

Rosh Hashanah translates to ‘head of the year’. When researching the meaning of this Chag, I came across an idea which had a profound impact on me. This idea teaches that just as our head controls our thoughts, actions and movements, how we choose to observe Rosh Hashanah has a tremendous influence on our year to come.

When I first read this, my thoughts were: “Easier said than done.” The Hebrew year 5780 hasn’t exactly been a walk in the park for anyone, except maybe for the chief executive of Dettol. I don’t think anyone can say that being locked in their house, wearing an itchy mask 24/7, and sanitising their hands until they resemble a dried-up naartjie peel has been a great experience. Also, not being able to eat potato wedges and chicken burgers at kosher Nando’s while chatting with friends hasn’t been fun. And, as for spending much of our time pretending to concentrate on hour-long Zoom calls has also not been the greatest experience of our lives.

How on earth is anyone able to adopt an optimistic Rosh Hashanah mindset in the era of COVID-19?

For most of this year I have struggled. Not being able to see the warm, friendly faces of my friends and teachers at school, hug my grandparents, and visit Israel on a programme in July for the ‘time of my life’ has really taken its toll on me.

However, this Rosh Hashanah is about a new start, a shift in my own and others’ self-pitying mindsets.

When I read the SA Jewish Report’s article entitled ‘High death rate reflects an ageing community’, written by Tali Feinberg in the 13 August 2020 edition of the paper, I was truly devastated to the point where my tears could literally fill a bucket.

The article stated that around 106 South African Jews a have died from COVID-19 and, to quote directly, “Jews, therefore, make up 1% of COVID-19 fatalities in South Africa, even though they are 0.09% of the population.”

COVID-19 attacks the elderly and, because our community’s average life expectancy is estimated to be 64.7 years, our grandparents and great-grandparents are the ones who suffer the most.

It’s difficult to mourn the loss of COVID-19 patients in our community when they are represented as nothing more than statistics. One has to think of these ‘statistics’ as thinking-feeling people who have loving children and grandchildren; these people would give anything to be alive and witness their grandson getting married, their granddaughter graduating, or simply wake up to another sunrise.

We must choose to observe a ‘socially-distanced’ Rosh Hashanah in order to protect the most vulnerable members in our community. It’s tempting, especially as a teenager, just to discard one’s mask, party with one’s friends, and pretend the virus doesn’t exist. In fact, I often fantasise about doing so myself.

However, this Rosh Hashanah we have the choice to save lives, as we stand three metres apart in shul to hear the shofar, as we pick out the raisins in our round challah, and get annoyed with our immediate family, think about the mitzvah, Pikuach Nefesh (preservation of human life), that you are so graciously performing.

We are taught that Hashem rewards us for such mitzvot either in this world or in the world to come. I wholeheartedly believe that the reward we get for performing Pikuach Nefesh this Rosh Hashanah is that we get to see our grandparents’ empathetic smiles for at least another day, even if it is over a Zoom call.

I believe that each day we spend on this earth is a blessing from Hashem, so let us, as the South African Jewish community, give the elderly a few more blessings this Rosh Hashanah.

Natalie Cohen is in Grade 10 at King David Victory Park.


‘This too is for the good’

Jayda Sack

It’s difficult to come to terms with the fact that around this time last year, Hashem carefully crafted the past Jewish year, the year that shook the world.

Sitting in shul last Rosh Hashanah, I don’t think anybody realised what the year 5780 would bring. Perhaps you davened for health, success in business, or, as any good Jew would, for a “perfect shidduch (love match)”. However, I do not think any of us asked the big man upstairs for a highly contagious and life-altering virus … and, if you did, I think you need to do some serious teshuva (repentance).

However, this year as we sit down at the Rosh Hashanah table, surrounded by sanitiser rather than friends and family, how can we truly celebrate the conclusion of such a difficult year and, furthermore optimistically, hope for a sweet new one when we are still spooked by the last?

I think the answer to this question is to look for the positives in a seemingly disastrous year. Whether it is the fact that you managed to bond with family over lockdown, learnt a new skill, or rediscovered a forgotten talent, these are all achievements that may have been unattainable without our little fiend — COVID-19.

Now, I can guess what you are most probably thinking — it’s easier said than done, please believe me, I know. I have spent many days in the last few months feeling frustrated and angry at the undesirable circumstances that we all find ourselves in. However, I came across a Hebrew quote that helped me channel these negative thoughts into the more positive ones that I voiced above.

“Gam Zu L’Tova – This too is for the good.”

At first I found the words unmoving as it is so difficult to understand how the coronavirus and the challenges that have accompanied it are for the good. But the more I started to think about the saying, the more I started to internalise the true meaning of the words. Pondering this brought me back to the beginning of this article – sitting in shul last year on Rosh Hashanah.

It brought me back to that point in time as it reminded me how little control we have over our lives. We may think that we control the reins that steer our future, but we don’t – Hashem does.

And so, on Rosh Hashanah when we daven to Hashem to inscribe us for a sweet new year, it reinstates our irrelevance, but also our power in determining our next 12 months.

We can believe that this year went sour because we didn’t daven with enough kevana (intention), or we can think that the year went fantastically for us because we did, but the truth is, we’ll never know. However, this uncertainty can be contrasted by certainty, and what is that certainty, you may ask? It’s “Gam Zu L’Tova — this too is for the good.”

If we believe that everything is for the good and that everything happens for a reason, it becomes a lot easier to have a positive mindset. We may not see a minor inconvenience in our day making a whole lot of difference in the greater scheme of things, but I truthfully think that it does.

We don’t know what Hashem’s plan is, and so if something minor like dropping your ice cream cone that you had been looking forward to all day onto the floor, or something greater such as living through a pandemic is part of Hashem’s plan, so be it. If you realise that it is for the good, you will manage to see the good that it unequivocally contains.

Jayda Sack is in Grade 9 at Yeshiva College.


A letter from my seat in shul

Noa Nerwich

Dear Noa

I have been so alone. I am your special seat, 12B, at the very back. The void that fills the shul instead of booming prayers and uplifting songs is eerie. The siddurs and Holy Book on the far-away shelves are collecting dust. The haunting quiet has replaced the infectious cheers and smiles of the little children running in and out. This has all made me feel so alone. It has been five long months of emptiness.

As Rosh Hashanah approaches, I truly miss you. I might see you, I might, but the uncertainty is unsettling and the thought of not seeing you is unimaginable. But if I don’t, I will miss you!

I will miss the passion in your Kol Nidreh (first prayer sung in the Yom Kippur service). I will miss seeing you, your mom, and your gran, hand-in-hand, the three generations connected in tefillah (prayer). I will even miss seeing you signal to your friends, to meet you outside at your next break.

I love seeing the grateful smile on your face when your mom offers you a Special K bar in case you may get hungry each year. I will miss seeing your face as you absorb every word your rabbi says during his Dvar Torah (sermon). I will miss seeing the sensitivity you show every time you have to leave for Yizkor (memorial prayer for the dead). But most of all, I will miss seeing the way you hold your mom’s hand as you turn your head to the heavens as you listen to the shofar.

Slowly, some of the congregants are trickling in, but coming back with restrictions like social distancing and the constant requirement to sanitise. As others begin to return, the anticipation builds up and my longing to see you is growing. However, I am grateful that some people have been able to return to their seats and connect to Hashem in ways that are impossible over Zoom.

Noa, there is always light at the end of a dark tunnel. As everything moved online those many months ago, other opportunities presented. Before the coronavirus you struggled to find the time to go to shul and learn. You now have had the opportunity to learn over Zoom, with rabbis, madrichim and friends.

You have attended challah bakes, shiurim, and many other incredible events through Zoom and weekly Microsoft Teams calls. While this pandemic may be destructive in many ways, it has also opened up unexpected additional opportunities for you to learn, grow, and connect.

So, as Rosh Hashanah approaches, while you and your family may be at home this year, may your new year be filled with meaning and connection, and may you in the upcoming year continue to learn, grow, and build on the foundation you created during COVID-19.

And next year, your good old seat, 12B at the very back of the shul, will be waiting for you.

Shana Tova umetuka!

Your shul seat, 12B

Noa Nerwich is in Grade 8 at King David Linksfield.


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