Tradition … dont risk it with your brisket

The change was subtle but undeniable: a slightly deeper shade of brown; carrots cut lengthwise rather than sliced; some scattered sprigs of rosemary. Any other day of the year, such discrete differences in recipe might have gone unnoticed. But this was not any other day of the year — this was Rosh Hashanah.

“What’s up with the brisket, Grandma?” my preteen son asked, echoing my suspicions that Bubbe’s famous brisket — the eternal pillar of my family’s High Holy Day feasts — had undergone an unprecedented facelift.

“I thought I’d try something a little different this year,” answered my mother, who had recently been possessed by Rachael Ray of the Food Network.

“But I like the old brisket,” said my younger son.

“Me too!” agreed my daughter.

“Oh, no. Not the brisket!” added the eldest of my grumbling foursome.

“Shh, I’m sure it’s delicious,” I said, trying to mask my own disappointment in the demise of the dish of honor.

Don’t get me wrong.

It’s not that my kids and I didn’t appreciate the wonderful meal my mother had prepared. (We did.) And it’s not that the updated version of her famous recipe wasn’t a legitimate improvement over the original. (It was.) It’s just that it didn’t matter whether Rachael Ray herself had prepared that brisket — it wasn’t about taste at all.

In fact, prior to that particular evening, my children had scarcely given our traditional Rosh Hashanah brisket a second thought. It was not until it went missing in action — and was suddenly replaced with a swankier roast — that my kids came to appreciate its significance in their lives.

Please! You may be thinking. How can you possibly suggest that a brisket could have a significant impact on someone’s life?

But it wasn’t just any old brisket; it was Bubbe’s famous brisket. The same unwavering recipe that had accompanied my family’s Jewish New Year for as long as my children could remember — nay, for as long as I could remember. In the predictable presence of Bubbe’s brisket on our Rosh Hashanah table, my children found steady ground; a sturdy link between their past, present and future.

No, I’m not being melodramatic. Oodles of experts believe that it is in the simple repetitions of life — not in the grand black-tie affairs — that our children find the stability and continuity they need to thrive in an unpredictable world. The experts believe that it is ritual and tradition — not kiddie stress management seminars or pint-size yoga classes — that build a vital sense of emotional security in our kids.

Of course, if you asked Tevye the Milkman, he would say the power of tradition is not breaking news. Yet, in our rocket-paced, technology-based, achievement-driven, media-ridden society, the presence of family rituals in our children’s lives might be more integral to their emotional well being than ever before.

Fortunately, Jewish life is positively bursting at the seams with ritual opportunity for modern parents: lighting the Chanukah candles, welcoming Elijah to our seder table, eating challah on Shabbat — all these experiences fill our children’s lives with spirituality, security and predictability.

The defining rituals of the Jewish New Year play an especially vital role in our children’s overall well-being, since they also carry meaningful symbolism and essential life lessons.

Let us honor them, even as we sample a new brisket recipe now and then.

Sharon Duke Estroff is a syndicated parenting columnist and a Jewish educator.