At 12:15 every Thursday for the next 10 weeks, students will throw a party. Not the drunken orgies of Animal House. These students will decorate a tired classroom in a rainy city with all sorts of color. They'll cook everything from fried donuts to lentil stew to three-cornered cookies. They'll hide matzah, ceremoniously light candles, fill the room with tents that have harvest fruit hanging in them, and take naps.
They won't butcher a lamb -- but they will butcher the Hebrew language. These are goyim, Protestant, Catholic and agnostic students who are taking a required Introduction to Bible class at Seattle Pacific University. There'll be plenty of book learning: Jews and Christians are, after all, people of the Book.
But this week, after we memorize key dates, make a topographical map of Palestine with paper mache and cheap paints, and talk about the difference between the Jewish, Catholic and Protestant Bibles, we'll settle down for our first party of the year: Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I know my calendar is out of whack -- we should celebrate Rosh Hashanah in September -- but we have 10 weeks to learn the whole Bible, so we can't be picky (or even correct).
There'll be plenty of partying after that, too, because the Jewish faith teaches through food and dance and, God forbid, even drinking. On Jan. 17, Passover, my students will eat bitter herbs to remind us of slavery in Egypt. On Purim, we'll eat Hamentaschen, three cornered cookies to remind us of the hat a very evil Haman wore during the days of Esther. On Hanukkah, we'll eat homemade donuts to remind us of the miraculous oil that kept the menorah lit after the Maccabees restored the temple. On our meager but meaningful Sabbath, which stretches from 12:15 till 12:50 on a Thursday afternoon, my students will eat a hearty lentil stew, or something like it, then nestle into pillows on the floor and nap for a few minutes to remind them that rest, Sabbath rest, is good for the soul.
On Rosh Hashanah (our nine-months-too-soon, Thursday afternoon, chronologically incorrect Rosh Hashanah, that is), we'll eat apples dipped in honey, not so much to remind us of anything as to look ahead with hope to a sweet new year. God knows, we need this hope.
Then one of the students will sound a faux shofar -- maybe a plastic horn or a trumpet or a bull's horn I keep in my office -- to call the class to repentance. God knows, we need this, too.
Finally, we'll walk to a canal that borders our campus, recall a sin or two, and throw a rock into the water to remind us that God throws our sins into the depths of the sea, where they can't be found. For a few moments, at least, at the start of the year, we'll live sinlessly and silently together.
No doubt in the next few hours and days someone will ask you, "What are your plans for the new year?" Why not actually have some -- meaningful plans? Not an ill-fated resolution or some vague sense of becoming a better person. Why not tell them, instead, "Yes. Yes, I have a plan."
Let that plan for your new year start simply. Slice a few apples and arrange them around a big bowl of honey -- and eat to a sweet new year. Get out some old musical instrument from the attic or basement that can produce a godawful squawk -- and reflect upon your shortcomings, what people of faith call sin. And find a body of water somewhere. If you're landlocked, fill the bathtub or kitchen sink. Even a toilet will do for a body of water. In fact, a toilet may be best because, after all, you're reflecting on the crap you've produced in 2012, tossing a symbolic bit of it in and flushing it away. Good riddance.
Then, as the swirling winds down -- the sweet sound of forgiveness -- wish each other l'shanah tovah. Happy new year.