As the final moments of Jewish calender year 5740 drew near, thousands of area Jewish families were busy with last-minute preparations for Rosh Hashanah and the Jewish high holy days that began at sundown Wednesday.
To the Fidlers, that means more than planning menus and guest lists. "We've been discussing the symbolism of the holy days with the kids," said Mrs. Fidler, "and we've turned our half-hour drive to the synagogue into a family sing, to teach them the songs we'll be singing in the synagogue on the holy days."
Last Friday, as always, the Fidlers and their two children welcomed the sabbath in the traditional way. But following the Hebrew prayers, blessings, songs and readings from the Torah, the parents turned again to Rosh Hashanah and the 10 days of atonement afterwards. It is when Jews are encouraged to make amends with God and their loved ones for their sins of the past year before Yom Kippur, the most important holy day.
"Do you remember the other night we were talking and I told you there is no word for sin in Hebrew . . . that instead of a sin we talk about falling short of our goals?" Stuart Fidler asked his children as they sat on their parent's laps at the dining room talble.
Deborah, 5, and Peter 8, nod.
"Well, is there something you can think of that you really didn't do the way you would have liked to and maybe you'd do differently if you had another chance?" Asked their mother.
Deborah, hugging her doll, says she can't think of anything. But Peter remembers sadly, "Two years ago my soccer team didn't quite make the championship . . ."
"I guess that applies too," Mrs. Fidler told him, "but I was thinking of things that relate to our family."
I know one thing I'd like to do better has to do with losing my patience too quickly," she said. And I'd like you to help. If you need to talk to me and I lose my patience, I would like you to tell me, 'Mommy, I like when you talk to me in a nice voice,' and remind me. Okay?"
The children both nod their heads and their father, an internist whose practice usually keeps him at the office past dinner, agrees to help, "if you will help remind me it's important to have a lot of time with my family and help me adjust my schedule so we have more time together." His wife smiled.
The Fidlers observe the sabbath strictly, turning down social engagements and refusing all but emergency phone calls.
Practicing Judaism "is the joy of our lives," said Jane Fidler. "It's a culture, rich in tradition and symbolism."
To the Fidlers, practicing Judaism in a predominantly Christian society can also mean explaining to Peter why he can't play on a soccer team that competes on Saturday mornings, sending Deborah to cookouts with her own kosher hot dogs, missing Saturday birthday parties and explaining away Santa Claus and the Easter bunny.
"It's one of the hardest parts of being Jewish," said their father.
"It's especially hard when they see some of their less observant Jewish friends doing the things they don't do," said Mrs. Fidler.
"But if it's as important as it is to us," her husband said, "we find a way. We tell the kids all the time that what's right for us is right for us and what somebody else observes is correct for them and not something we can judge.
"We hope the alternative of what we give them on Friday nights and holy days is enough to make up for what they may miss," he said.
"If we make the alernative meaningful enough and involve them enough," said Mrs. Fidler, "then the kids are going to stay with it . . . we hope."
"I feel very badly about this," said Mrs. Fidler, "but my family was never observant, I never went to Hebrew school and although I always knew I was Jewish, I didn't know that much about my religion. It's something I've always regretted."
But when she married her husband, who was from a very devout family, Mrs. Fidler decided to master her faith, even teaching herself Hebrew, "using children's books."
"I guess I'm like the mother who never had piano lessons," she said. "I want my children to have what I never had. I don't feel bitter about it, I'm just glad I have my religion now."