Shalom Life | September 19, 2014

Rosh Hashanah Comes to Kotztebue Alaska

How one Jew found a way to celebrate the New Year Among the Tundra

By: Taali Lester Tollman

Published: September 18th, 2012 in News » World

Rosh Hashanah Comes to Kotztebue Alaska

Kotzebue is a small town located 33 miles north of the Arctic Circle on Alaska's Western cost. Its population is 3,201 and, as of this August, its Jewish population increased 100 percent. My step-daughter, Sadie, moved there to work as a special needs teacher for pre-schoolers with her girlfriend and my husband and I were a little concerned about her choice.

Temperatures through the winter can dip to -45 centigrade and sometimes more than just the ice freezes. In fact, there are times when many of the town’s cell phones and car batteries become incapacitated. This made me nervous. I will admit that taking the subway after 9 pm can make me nervous, so my tolerance for adventure is low. Still I worried, and not only about the cold. I worried about what she would eat, it's hard to grow much fresh produce on the tundra, about the people she would meet, her job, but mostly I wondered how she would feel being the only Jew, not just in Koztebue, but the only one for miles away.

I called her before Rosh Hashanah.

"So how are you guys going to celebrate the holiday?"

"Um, I guess we will cut up some apples and eat them with honey," she said easily.

"Do you even have apples up there?" I was wondering if we should courier her some.

"Yes, we have apples, we'll also invite a few people over to celebrate with us and eat dinner. Make it feel more like a holiday"

"Nice," I said.

And it was nice. Thousands of miles away from us, in a place so foreign and strange, our daughter was expressing her Judaism quietly, in her own way. And I was proud. I was proud of the fact that after all the holiday dinners we had shared as a family, the hours at synagogue, the time spent at BBYO, the trip to Israel, whatever it was, we had clearly done something right.

As a parent it sometimes feels like one big crapshoot, you never really know how things will turn out. But this Rosh Hashana I felt victorious. Although we couldn't be together, and we’re separated by far too many miles, we all participated in the same rituals. We brought friends and family together to talk, to tell stories, to enjoy a meal and dip apples into honey, praying for a sweet New Year.

Here's hoping. We seem off to a good start. Then again, that could just be the honey talking.

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