Rosh Hashana: For a sweet new year

The Shabbat candles were lit and the prayers spoken Friday night as Ernie Magaro sliced his made-from-scratch challah bread and passed it around the table.

There was a moment of silent appreciation as the guests savored the egg-rich bread and then a call for honey on this, the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

Donna Magaro had the honey pot ready as well as a sumptuous dinner, guaranteeing a sweet introduction to the new year for those gathered around the couple's elegantly-laid dining room table.

The Magaros, like a number of other Midlands Jewish families, welcomed new faces into their Irmo home, hosting four USC students along with their daughter, Abigail, a USC junior, and an old friend, Vi Wayburn.

"It's a family holiday," said Donna Magaro, as she laid out brisket, carrot souffle, green beans, potatoes and salad for the hungry crew.

Very quickly, the four young women became like family, sharing stories of resident life, boyfriends and the perils and privileges of being Jewish in a predominantly Christian culture.

"People are either afraid to ask anything or they ask everything," Amanda Osofsky, a junior from Philadelphia, said.

As president of Hillel at USC, the Jewish student organization, she is used to fielding a lot of questions, including inquiries from parents who are hoping their son or daughter can find a Jewish mate on campus.

(With about 300 Jewish students on campus, that is a not-so-easy undertaking, Osofsky acknowledged.)

The rituals of the faith, and the fragrant smells of simmering matzah ball soup, brisket and apples and honey, were an obvious joy to these women, who planned to attend services at Tree of Life Congregation Friday evening and today.

"We can't afford to be shy eaters," said Stephanie Bouffier, a junior from Atlanta, as the women debated just how many matzah balls they should add to the soup.

"It's nice to have a home-cooked meal," said Lana Bogoslavsky, a junior from Sherwood, Ark.

Rosh Hashanah is among the holiest days on the Jewish calendar, ushering in the 10-day period of the High Holy Days, which culminates in Yom Kippur, the day of atonement.

Today and Sunday, Jews will go to services and synagogue. Many will practice Tashlikh during the holiday, the symbolic casting off of sins by tossing small pieces of bread into flowing water.

Robin Bader, a 21-year-old junior from Greenville, plans to invite her boyfriend, Sean Barr, to break the fast at Yom Kippur. "He knows it's important to me," she said.

This is the third year the Magaros have hosted a Rosh Hashanah dinner that includes students, a tradition they plan to continue.

Their son Mark was absent from Friday's dinner because of a class he could not miss, but she said he would be there next year.

And as for the others?

No question, said Osofsky. "I'm going to be a repeat."