Rosh Hashanah Foods Besides Apples and Honey

by Jean Graubart
Director of the Leo and Anna Smilow Center for Jewish Living and Learning

Rosh Hashana, part of the Days of Awe, is a spiritual holiday, calling us to the task of inner reflection, soul searching, and forgiveness. It is also a time to find hope and sweetness in the New Year, and what better way to do that than through food? The most well-known symbol is honey, served on a round challah to represent the cycle of the year.

But there are more traditional treats from many different Sephardic cultures. Some of these Jews serve chewy dates for more sweetness; Moroccan Jews dip the dates into a tasty mixture of ground sesame seeds, aniseeds and powdered sugar. There is even a prayer to be recited over dates: “As we eat this date, may we date the New Year that is beginning as one of happiness and blessings and peace.”

Veggies have a place too. Many Sephardic Jews cook pumpkins or gourds to express the hope that as this vegetable is protected by a thick covering, so may we be protected and kept strong. Leeks are eaten for luck and spinach or Swiss chard or the leafy part of the beet root are eaten to “beat” off enemies and keep us from those who might do us harm. The greens are said to build strength. Israeli Jews often eat at least seven kinds of fruits and vegetables to symbolize the hope for a plentiful year. One favorite dish is carrot salad, with the carrots cut in rounds to represent coins and the hope of a prosperous year. Orange lentils are prepared for the same reason.

Shana Tova says the FishRosh Hashanah literally means “head of the year,” and in many Israeli and Sephardic homes, a fish head is given to a special guest or the head of the household to eat. Besides being a test for the stomach, the food represents the hope that the family will move forward and come out ahead in the coming year.

The pomegranate has become a fixture on the Rosh Hashana table. It is said that every pomegranate contains exactly 613 seeds, the exact number of the mitzvot, Biblical commandments, that Jews are obligated to fulfill. The prayer for this fruit asks that the coming year will be filled with as many good deeds as the pomegranate has seeds. Also, the top of the fruit is said to look like the crown of the Torah, and it is believed that the pomegranate is a symbol of fertility.

Of course there is the classic. Apples are dipped in honey because the fruit’s roundness symbolizes a hope that the New Year will be joyous from start to finish, full circle.

We at the Washington DCJCC, wish you a “Shana Tova”, a year of sweetness and good

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Rosh Hashanah: Mixed Faith Families, Mix-and-Match Honey and Apples

Some interesting things from around the interwebnet-tubes today as the countdown to Rosh Hashanah rolls on.

The first item that was brought to my attention by the ever-devoted Dr. Marion Usher, who runs our interfaith couples workshops, is an advertisement from last week’s Washington Jewish Week. 

adas ad -jpeg -contrast

The ad is your typical “Shana Tova” listing from Adas Israel, the largest conservative congregation in-town, except for two details, both of which, I think are very encouraging. First, the ad announces that no tickets are required to attend Erev Rosh Hashanah services on Friday, September 18 at 8:00 pm. Which is nice. More shuls should try and break-through the pay-for-pray perception (which to some extent is reality) which plague large congregations with “no ticket required” High Holiday services. More remarkable is the text underneath which reads,

“Rabbi Gil Steinlauf will usher in the High Holy Day season with a major address on Keruv (outreach) to dual faith families. All are welcome.”

 I don’t know that I recall the last time I saw a rabbi’s sermon topic advertised as a “major address” on a specific topic — kind of like the President addressing Congress on healthcare. But I kinda like it. And the implication is that Rabbi Steinlauf will be using one of the most high-profile nights of the Jewish year to both welcome dual faith families to his congregation, as well as to make the case that this kind of outreach is crucial to the future of his synagogue and the Conservative Movement. It is a commendable act, and I hope it finds a wide and receptive audience. In the meantime, if you’re between 21-35 years-old and are still looking for a service for the Holidays, visit EntryPointDC/Gesher City’s comprehensive marketplace (insert irony) of free and cheap tickets.

The second item comes from the good folks at Tablet who went to the trouble of scientifically combining apples and honey to find the ideal combination. The results, are not kind on the Bear Squeeze Bottle-variety honey — which now makes me self-conscious about my own Yogi & Boo-Boo Bear-inspired purchases. I’m not surprised I could do better, but somehow I feel like we owe the Bear Bottle honey some respect for its uncomplaining work-a-day reliability. Are they abusive to bees or something? Where’s the love?

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