All the senses heighten during Rosh Hashanah preparation: the sight of chairs being set up in shules, the sounds of shofar practice, the feel of ripening apples and the smells and tastes of honey cakes coming out of the oven.
Few people actively participate in and appreciate the excitement of the lead-up to chagim like our community’s rebbetzins. Through their unique styles and personal life experiences, every rebbetzin has their own tips and tricks for surviving the chaos of the High Holy Days, with nifty strategies to ensuring that this period is special for the whole community.
“Rosh Hashanah and the weeks surrounding it have been particularly beautiful and busy for the past 12 years,” reflects Lifshy Ajzenszmidt, rebbetzin of South Caulfield Hebrew Congregation.
“Having a Chabad House in Hong Kong, I would have to make all of my challahs. So at least a month before Rosh Hashanah I would bake four challahs at a time in my small oven, freeze them, and eventually would have enough to feed the 100-plus people who would come to our Rosh Hashanah dinner. When we moved from Hong Kong to Australia five years ago, Glick’s was my saviour!”
This year, Rivkah Rapoport, rebbetzin of Kadimah Shule, is ecstatic to see a full shule of people again after the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Rosh Hashanah is the one time of year you get to see everyone in one place,” gushed Rebbetzin Rapoport.
“This whole month is a really inspiring time for people, and may be the one time of the year that they engage with their synagogue, and people have missed that. There’s a vibe in shule on the chagim where you’ve got a thousand people standing and singing together that you can’t replace on Zoom.”
For Sara Glasman, rebbetzin of St Kilda Shule, delegation is the number tool for High Holy Day prep.
“I delegate tasks to my older kids and of course try to get my youngest involved too,” Rebbetzin Glasman said.
“I try to plan ahead in terms of meals, guests, going to shule, arranging our shule’s women’s events in the lead-up to the High Holy Days and of course, looking after my family together with my husband Yaakov.”
The guiding philosophy for Deb Levy Friedler, rebbetzin of Kehillat Masada Shule, is to not let the things that don’t matter get in the way of the things that do matter.
“I think it is always useful to remember the difference between halachah (Jewish law), minhag (custom) and your vision,” Rebetzin Friedler advises.
“If you have ticked off the first two then everything else is a bonus! This can help us to focus on what is really important and let go when things don’t go to plan.”
The High Holy Day period, but particularly this year’s Rosh Hashanah, warrants a deeper celebration for Rebbetzin Friedler.
“For me this year is special as we have been through more change together in the past year than ever before. I always have a sense of wonder at the changes in ages, abilities, geography, and so on, as our journey continues.”
One thing’s for certain, all the rebbetzins agree that spending time with family is a priority. Like Rebbetzin Ajzenszmidt says: “Our Rosh Hashana must-do is to remember to relax and to enjoy our time together as a family.”
“In the lead-up to the High Holy Days, I find it important to be prepared and make a list of all the things I need to do. My calendar app and other reminder features help me stay on track, so I’m very grateful for technology,” Rebbetzin Rabin said, before explaining that she makes soups, kugels and challah dough in advance to ease the load closer to Rosh Hashanah. And of course, she advises to remain calm.
“Along the way… take deep breaths.”