Religion & Beliefs

Happy High-Holy-Birth-Day!

For fall babies, birthdays often coincide with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We weigh the pros and cons. Read More

By / September 23, 2014

For Jews born in September and early October, birthdays and High Holidays go hand-in-hand. Checking the calendar to see if Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur falls your birthday becomes par for the course. Birthdays might be spent praying or eating apples dipped in honey—or fasting—and festivities are often postponed.

I’m a September baby myself, but Rosh Hashanah has only fallen on my birthday twice. The first occurrence—and I had to look this up—was in 1988, when I turned two. I can’t say I remember it, but I do remember being wished a happy birthday and Shana Tova the second time, in 1999, on my thirteenth birthday. It was a unique day at synagogue; a blend of birthday wishes and Rosh Hashanah ritual. I spent plenty of time with friends during services (we celebrated my bat mitzvah in October).

Philip Wolgin, who lives in Washington, D.C., will be celebrating his birthday as Rosh Hashanah begins on Wednesday. For him, this is nothing new. “My birthday is September 24, so it almost always falls during the chagim,” he wrote in an email. “I’ve never been the biggest birthday person, particularly since mine is so late in the year, pretty much everyone in my class had already had their birthday by the time mine rolled around. Honestly, I don’t mind it.”

Even though Wolgin’s used to having a High-Holy-Birth-Day, one year really stands out, and it was a big one: “My 21st birthday was erev Yom Kippur, so of course that put a bit of a damper in the plans!”

New Yorker Rebecca Eskreis has also had a birthday fall on Yom Kippur. In fact, she has had several. “I’ve been ‘blessed’ with having my birthday, October 9, fall on at least four or five Yom Kippurs (either erev, or the actual holiday),” she explained in an email.

Having experienced a birthday on both “days”of Yom Kippur (Jewish holidays run from sundown to sundown, spanning two days on the calendar), Eskreis, who lives in New York, has come down in favor of a birthday on the day of Yom Kippur, as opposed to the eve. “It’s actually better because after fasting the whole day you can really pig out and have lots of cake without feeling guilty!” she wrote.

While adulthood has led Eskreis to an appreciation of the birthday cake/break-fast correlation, as a kid, she used to view the day differently: “It meant I also got to have the day off from school,” she explained. It’s fair to say there are adults out there who approach the day with similar levels of excitement, even if it’s not their birthday.

A birthday on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur can also mean a chance to spend time with family and friends. Last year, Lindsey Schnitt was delighted when Rosh Hashanah fell unusually early, in the first week of September, coinciding with her birthday. “For me, I am such a big birthday person, but I love being with my family, and I also love this time of year being at Temple,” she said.

“I think I went into services being excited that it was my birthday, not really making the day about me, but it was very special to be alongside people who have known me my entire life,” she explained.

Not everyone likes sharing a birthday with the High Holidays. Tiffany Nassimi’s birthday falls during Rosh Hashanah this year. “You can never celebrate on your birthday,” she wrote in a Facebook message. As for the social media perks of a birthday, “no one ever ends up writing on your [Facebook] wall.” She pointed out that birthday or no birthday, the timing of the High Holidays has always been awkward, given that they fall at the very beginning of the school year. This year, her friends want to take her out after the holiday, “but we’ll see.”

In the end, how you feel about your birthday falling on a High Holiday is pretty much moot point—it’s part of the reality of being a fall baby. Eskreis summed up the experience well: “I don’t look forward to having my birthday fall on [a holiday], but I’ve also learned to make the best of it.” This year at least, she has a reprieve from a Yom Kippur birthday.

As for me: I’m looking forward to my next Rosh Hashanah birthday, but I just checked the calendar and I’ll have to wait until 2018. Until then, honey birthday cake for the other September babies.

(Image: Shutterstock)