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Shana Tova: Rosh Hashanah offers chance for families to reflect

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AP Photo/Erie Times-News, Christopher Millette

(Read caption) Shana Tova: Rosh Hashanah begins this evening at sundown. Rabbi Leonard Lifshen demonstrates the blowing of the shofar, or ram's horn, used in the observance of Rosh Hashanah, which marks the beginning of the high holy days for the Jewish people at Congregation Brith Sholom in Erie, Pa., Sept. 3, 2013.

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L'Shanah Tovah! (Or, if you wish: "Have a good new year!")

Sunset tonight (Sep. 4) marks the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, a two-day celebration of the Jewish new year marked by the sounding of a shofar (an instrument made from a hollow ram's horn) and eating foods such as apples dipped in honey to conjure up the hoped-for sweetness of the new year.

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Although not all of us are Jewish, there's universal insight to be gained from Rosh Hashanah, and it can kick off some seriously interesting and worthwhile conversations with kids should you choose to broach the subject.

Rosh Hashanah is viewed as a day of judgment at the beginning of a 10-day period terminating with Yom Kippur. On the day of judgement, by tradition, an intermediate class of people – neither purely righteous nor irredeemably wicked – are given, in effect, a 10-day grace period to get their acts together and save their souls. Through reflection and repentance, those of us stuck in the "neither saint nor sinner" category can move toward the former, and seize a chance of salvation.

By talking about the holiday with kids (and, heck, even spouses), you can gain a flash of insight into another religion and culture ... and open the door to contemplating, with love and a conscious mind, how to live a bit better over the coming months. You might start by asking:

• What have you done that was good over the past year?

• What have you done that was not so good?

• How could you be better in the future?

• What does it mean to live a righteous life?

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• Why is that important?

• Are there people who you have had problems with who you'd like to talk to and forgive or apologize to?

And you might think about those questions yourself. I do, annually, and while I still haven't entered the sainted class whose names are instantly written in the book of life, I'd like to think that I've been able to tenuously maintain my place among the struggling middle. It's a small accomplishment, but I think it's one worth fighting for.