By Laura Seymour
The Jewish New Year is different, yet in some ways much the same, as the way other cultures celebrate a new beginning. One way in which we are all similar is that food plays a big part in celebration. A great book by Rahel Musleah titled “Apples and Pomegranates: A Family Seder for Rosh Hashanah” is filled with stories, recipes and a seder with different foods and blessings. From the book, here are a few New Year’s food customs around the world:
- The Japanese eat buckwheat noodles to symbolize long life. Children try to swallow at least one whole noodle for good luck.
- Black-eyed peas and collard greens are popular in the American South on New Year’s Day because they symbolize prosperity.
- Latin Americans and those of Spanish descent eat 12 grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve for a lucky, fruitful year.
- In Greece, it’s a tradition to eat vasilopita, a cake baked with a coin inside. The person who bites into his piece of cake and find the coin is said to be blessed with good luck.
- During the Persian New Year, a table is set with seven items, all starting with the Farsi letter “seen:” Green vegetables, garlic, vinegar, dried fruit, a hyacinth flower, coins, and a snack made from flour and sugar.
- The Chinese enjoy cookies, oranges and orange-inspired dishes that symbolize sweetness and good fortune, as well as “pot stickers,” dumplings that look like ancient Chinese coins.
All of these make apples and honey plus round challah seem a little boring. But Jews around the world do add some different foods such as dates and pomegranates. In India, Jews eat green beans similar to the rubia mentioned in the Talmud. There are so many traditions and rituals in Judaism that make our religion come alive. Many of us are “gastronomic Jews” — we relate to Judaism through the foods we eat. That is a good beginning, but let’s be sure to learn and share the reasons for the traditions with our children. The taste of Judaism will be richer.
Laura Seymour is director of Jewish Life and Learning at the Aaron Family JCC.