The wonderful thing about the Jewish year is that no matter whether the holidays are early or late, we always have Jewish holidays to prepare for and enjoy. This brings the question of how to celebrate — do we fall back on tradition or try to make changes? Every year (actually every day) is new and brings new opportunities, plus we change. These past few years have created lots of changes; some have welcomed the challenges and called them opportunities, and some have struggled trying to do the same thing when it is not possible. This is part of life and not just during a pandemic.
Enough with the theory! The High Holidays are here and what are you going to do to start the new year off in a special way? For me, finding a new book has always been the answer — what can I read that will start the new year off in a positive way? But this year, I found a tradition that I didn’t know about. It is all about food (which most people find irresistible) but it is also about words and language and messages! As we know, Jewish holidays are often defined by what we eat and what we don’t eat — stop thinking brisket and try adding this tradition to your holiday celebration.
On the first night of Rosh Hashanah, we eat certain foods to symbolize our wishes and hopes for the year ahead. Most well-known are apples and honey and, of course, the round challah. Simanim (symbolic foods) are also part of the celebration. These foods are a play on words based on the double meanings of the names of the foods. As you taste each of the simanim, a short prayer is said. We are eating the food and praying for our needs and hopes for the coming year. The blessing starts the same way for each food: May it be Your will, G-d, and G-d of our forefathers, that… For the most popular apples and honey, the blessing goes: “May it be Your will, G-d and G-d of our forefathers, that You renew for us a good and sweet new year.” Here are the other traditional foods for blessing: carrots, leek or cabbage, beets, dates, gourd, pomegranate, fish and the head of sheep or fish. Some of the blessings may be obvious but many are harder to figure out. There are ones for wishing a good year and increased merits, and ones for protection against enemies.
Go to Google — there are some beautiful cards and pictures with the blessings to download and to learn more. You can also find recipes to create with the item. I was especially interested in the gourd as at this time of year, we see so many beautiful gourds for decoration but not for eating. However, many of the sites recommended pumpkin! Great — pumpkin pie as an addition to your Rosh Hashanah meal! Not being a cook, I am still a bit confused about what to do with the leek!
What next? Here is the challenge: Choose a different food, maybe one you like such as chocolate, and also find one you don’t like (no example) and come up with a blessing! The hope is to increase your dreams and plans for the year in specific ways and have a sensory reminder. Every time you eat some chocolate (or even think about it), what is the blessing you wish to come from it? As always, I would love to hear from you about what you added to your simanim.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family JCC.