Humor: Mark trail so kids will come home for High Holy Days

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Yeah, I know it's a little bit odd. But when I think of the High Holy Days I think of homecoming. Repentance, redemption, renewal. Homecoming for the soul. (What do you expect from a Jewish humorist who has one son in tzizit and another in designer tank tops with pleats and pockets, and a granddaughter who'd love to wear tzitzit if they'd let her?)

Consider our bestseller, the Book of Books. (And just consider the royalties if Moses had spent more time in the office and filed a copyright.) The Torah repetitively talks of return — tshuvah. Repentance and return, the same Hebrew word.

Come on home, you wanderers, says the eternal Bestseller that we forgot to file the copyright on. Come back home to Jerusalem — that city high on the hill where you left your heart.

And with a little extrapolation you can stretch the High Holy Days message of tshuvah to family. We all have our diaspora. Especially today where the whole wide world blooms with oases that lure our kids. And 767s that carry them away from us are cheap and plentiful.

I call the daughter in my diaspora every year, a couple weeks before the holidays.

"Rachael, this is your father, who with some assistance from your mama, gave you life."

"Oh, hi, Dad."

"Rache, Rosh Hashanah is around the corner. I assume you'll return to Zion. I mean Huntsville, Ala., where we two senior lifegivers reside"

"Uh, I'll try, Dad."

"Rache, Jeremiah, who could divine the future and plumb the human heart like you see through clear chicken soup said, `Return ye backsliding children.' Whatta prophet — three millennia and 8,000 miles removed yet he knew all about you. And if you don't believe me, check Jeremiah, Chapter 3, Verse 22."

"Dad, we went through this last year. Remember, I couldn't come, but I sent you the signed note from the rabbi testifying that I attended services so you'd be happy."

"Yeah, sure. But you really oughta come home this year. It's your poor, old mom I'm worried about. She came home from water aerobics yesterday, sloshing and gurgling. Her shopping time is way down, too."

Sometimes it works — sometimes it doesn't. There's an old fable (I just originated) that makes the point about kids and High Holy Day homecoming.

It's a neat parable about a family who lives happily in a modest cabin surrounded by a thick, pathless woods. Beyond the woods is a bright meadow with a stream bordered by wild plum trees.

The father knows that sooner or later the son — energized by an impulse to explore the world — will leave the bosom of his family. Ah, but that woods. Dark, frightening, full of brambles. The boy will never find his way back to the cabin once his restless heart is satisfied.

"When you leave," said the father, "you must mark your trail because someday you'll want to return. Don't forget."

"Right," replied the confident youth. "But why do you always think of me as a half-grown fool who can't even find his way home and why do you assume I'll return? The people out there (and he gestured beyond the cabin walls) will think me wise and beautiful. You'll see."

Soon after this conversation, the boy left. Early in the morning he stole out of his bedroom window and stepped into the impenetrable forest and brashly rushed through the woods in his eagerness for freedom. At a safe distance, the father followed, diligently marking the trail from home through the woods. Then with a long look at his son briskly striding over the meadow, the father returned home.

At Rosh Hashanah, the youth returned. And at the festive holiday table, he told wondrous tales of the woods and the world beyond. "And did you have any trouble finding your way back to us?" asked the father.

"None whatsoever," replied the son. "I told you the trail is clearly marked."

So says the legend. It's not a bad moral. They all come home sooner or later. But you must mark the trail. May all your children find their way home this Rosh Hashanah.