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Rosh Hashana youth writing competition

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The SA Jewish Report called for aspiring young writers to send in stories for a Rosh Hashanah writing competition. We received the most charming pieces, almost all of which could have won. However, here are our two winners – both of which are quite different but well-written and honest.
by OWN CORRESPONDENT | Sep 06, 2018

The dinner table

Dean Solomon, Grade 11, King David Victory Park High

We approach the square, cherry wood dinner table, and take the seats that we have been designated by unspoken vote. As the sun sets, we chatter in our own echo chambers. The racists have their own conversation at the one wing of the table, while the rest are either speaking about my brother’s brand new, exciting wedding, or why capitalism is the bane of humanity’s existence, and should be extinguished.

The entrée arrives, and this is the time for us to start opening up from our little societies, by doing the simple things: asking for necessities like salt, or perhaps, pepper, to add an little bit of flavour to the fish.

It seems to be a Jewish tradition to have an abundance of fish in the starters. For me, this is always the worst part of the meal, because fish tastes like slimy, grey-pink indistinguishable meat. My uncle overhears me saying that we should not live in a world that has starving people and rich people, and coming from the more conservative enclave of the dinner table, he doesn’t find my comments very favourable. He starts on a convoluted, annoying, line of thought that begins at the Bible, and ends at “why communists aren’t normal people”.

Being polite and sensible, and to get him to be quiet, I listen to his to trash talk on Friedrich Engels. However, I want to release propaganda that would make Lenin and make Marx proud. My observant, non-confrontational father feels the tension, and changes the subject to the bright future of my brother’s life.

The main course arrives, and it’s a traditional Jewish brisket that’s covered in a bark brown gravy. It is cooked in a way that makes it break apart very easily. My other brother (who looks like me, but has a beard, and is more muscular) starts, with his infinite energy, to sing, “Do you like pina colada?” while he dives into his vegan food. At this point of the dinner, the boxes we were in at the beginning of the evening are thrown away, and we speak freely.

This is when my brother asks me and my bearded counterpart to be his best men. The topic of South Africa’s diverse culture and people comes up, and my uncle and his group start speaking about how terrible black culture is, and how it should be more like white “superior” culture.

I am at the point of breaking – about to throw away my polite words and start swearing at their apartheid mindsets, but my mother gives me “the look”, and I know not to explode like the Tzar Bomba or else I’ll suffer like the people in the Democratic Republic of Congo under Belgium’s rule. If it was not for my mother, I would have family members that would never want to see me again – not that I would mind, necessarily.

However, my pride goes down my throat, just like the brisket. My mother, in her thoughtfulness, changes the topic back to the wedding. It’s easy, convenient and inoffensive, but also a sure-fire way to get everyone overwhelmed at the thought of seating arrangements.

Then, the sweet, rich smell of dessert hits our noses. The honeycomb ice-cream is placed before us. We forget all talk, excited to start eating this paradise. I am overcome by relief that the dinner is almost over. I am almost at the finishing line, where I will no longer have to put up with hearing how millennials are ruining “our way of life”, or other off-hand comments about minority or disenfranchised groups.

However, at this point, the dinner is a lighter version the doomed eternity it felt like previously, because now everyone is so full from eating so much food that they are falling asleep… but, of course, they still finish the ice-cream!

At the end of the evening, I say (most reluctantly) goodbye to everyone, with a forced smile on my face. When all the “goodnights”, “it was nice to see you”, and other lies are said, we can finally go our separate ways. Good Yontiff!


Rosh Hashanah an opportunity for enlightenment, not a routine gesture

Gavriel Shaw, Grade 9, Torah Academy

Every year, we think to ourselves: “It’s all the same. We go into shul, daven, go home, eat and, I guess, hope that G-d will be nice to us”.

It shouldn’t be like this. This is a serious time. These are the days when G-d decides how much money you are going to make that year, what your Shabbos/Yom Tov budget will be, and most importantly, whether you are going to live for another year, or whether you have finally completed the mission G-d created you for.

In light of this knowledge, what should we be doing on these days – even in the days leading up to these days? I don’t want to be given a whole speech about how to repent, and how to become a perfect person. Yes, it is important to be a better person, and to think about the bad things you may have done, and repent. But it is most important that you build a relationship with G-d.

“And G-d called out to the man [Adam] and said, ‘Where are you?’” (Genesis 3:9)

You might ask, “But, G-d knew exactly where he was!” But, do you believe that the Torah is eternal, that its every word applies to every individual, under all conditions, at all times? The fact of the matter is that this isn’t the case, and G-d is calling out to everyone, “Where are you?”

This call fits in perfectly with Rosh Hashanah. It is the question you should be asking yourself, not just on the day, but on all the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah. At a time when we are often worried about work and making sure that there is dinner on the table that night, during this hectic work cycle, it is important to contemplate who you are, and where you are in life. Are you completing the mission G-d has created for you, or are you just completing your personal mission?

The only way to find the answer is to build a relationship with G-d by learning his Torah and fulfilling his commandments. When you build a relationship with G-d, you come to realise that everything he does is for the good. Just like a dark room can be a lit up by a small candle, so too, when you are in a bad space, a small amount of happiness can be a source of enlightenment. That enlightenment can entail the realisation that you are experiencing everything for a reason. You shouldn’t be thanking G-d only for the good things.

The month of Elul and Rosh Hashanah is the best time to achieve this enlightenment. Why is this?

Before a king enters the city, the people of the city go out to greet him in the field. There, everyone who so desires gets a chance to meet him, and he receives them all with a cheerful countenance. When he goes into the city, they follow him. So too, by analogy, the month of Elul and Rosh Hashanah is when we meet G-d in the field.

This is our opportunity to make a real connection, and build a relationship. Don’t use it as a time for fun and games, rather use the opportunity!

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