Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Rosh Hashanah: A Sweet New Year

Tomorrow at sunset Rosh Hashanah begins, and with it the most solemn and yet joyous season of the Jewish year, the Yamim Noraim--the High Holy Days. This ten day period of supplication and repentence ends after Yom Kippur.

The High Holy Days are not really "home" holy days, unlike most of the rest of the Jewish holidays. Rather, these are synagogue holy days, upon which the congregation comes together for an intense period of ritual and prayer. But there are some sweet home customs for the two day holiday of Rosh Hashanah.

Rosh Hashanah at Home

by N.

We spend a lot of time at synagogue on the High Holy Days, but there's also the home front. On the home front, most of what we do is about food. When we sit down to dinner tomorrow night...well, it will be dinner but very early because Mom and Bruce are ushers at temple and have to be there early. So when we sit down at 4 o'clock, there will some unusual things on the table along with the china, the candles and the kiddush cups we have on Shabbat. First, there will challah, which we have for Shabbat, too, but this Challah is different from all other Challah. It is round! We make the Challah round because roundness symbolizes the fullness of life, something that we pray for on Rosh Hashanah. Some people also make Challah in the shape of ladders, to remind them of Jacob's Ladder. Mom makes the challah with raisins and cinnamon for a sweet new year. Another thing we have on the table are cut apples and little bowls of honey. The apples, a symbol of the coming fall harvest, are dipped in the honey, and we say a blessing and then serve each other bites of them and say: L'shanah tova mituveka--Have a good and sweet year! And then there's the fish Mom bakes, head and all! Rosh Hashanah means 'the head of the year' so we have the whole fish. Also, mom says to remind you that fishes have their eyes open all of the time--and at this time we want to have our eyes open to our sins so that we can know them and make t'shuvah for them, which means to turn around and go a better way! Last of all, we have honey cake for dessert--again, to remind ourselves to have a sweet new year. So that's the evening.

On Rosh Hashanah day we have a big dinner after services, kind of like at Thanksgiving. Some years, when we have lots of people, we have turkey. But this year mom is only having a few people because of the floors, so she is making Fez Chicken with Couscous from the Jewish Holiday Cookbook. She says she used to make it all the time when I was little but I don't remember. And there will be more round Challah and apples and honey. But Mom also makes Tayglach--which is a honey and nut candy for dessert. Last of all, we will have rimmonim, which a known as pomogranites. They remind us of Torah because they have many seeds, just like the seeds of Torah that are planted in every Jew. They also qualify as "funny" fruit--a fruit that you don't eat very often. Maybe once a year or so. That way you can say the Shehecheyanu--a blessing for special days--when you light the candles for the second day of Rosh Hashanah.

I like Rosh Hashanah. There's lots of good things to eat. It's different in ten days when we come to Yom Kippur, but that's another story.

Back to you, Mom!

I think N. has done a great job of telling about our food traditions for Rosh Hashanah.

In the synagogue, Rosh Hashanah is a joyous holiday when we greet the New Year with the blowing of the Shofar. The Shofar is a ram's horn, and it is sounded after the Torah reading. There are three parts of the Shofar service, and during each part, the Shofar is sounded with three calls. Each part reminds us of an important aspect of the Eternal.

The first is Malchuyot, which means "kingship," or sovereignty. We say: "As it is written in the Torah: For the kingdom is Yours, and from eternity to eternity You will reign in glory." The Shofar is sounded. And we say: "Hayom harat olam...this is the day of the world's birth...as we are Your children show us the compassion of a father, as we are Your servants, we look to you for mercy...O Holy and Awesome G-d!"

The second aspect is Zichronot--Rememberance. We say: "This is the day of the world's beginning; now we remember creation's first day. On this day the fate of nations is in the balance...Happy is the one who does not forget You..." The Shofar is sounded. And we say: "In love and favor hear us, as we invoke Your remembrance."

The third aspect is Shofarot, which is revelation. We say: "It is written: 'The Eternal will appear; G-d's arrow will flash like lightning. The Eternal G-d will cause the Shofar to be sounded and stride forth with the storm-winds of the South.' Thus will You shield Your people completely..." This time, after the shofar is sounded with all the calls, the very last blowing is Tekiah Gedolah, the great sounding that lasts until the blower runs out of breath.

This is the high note of the morning service. When it is over, we mingle and greet each other, eat some Tayglach and then go home to the family table for eating and schmoozing. And eating some more, until, rather like hobbits, we resort to filling in the corners with honey cake and pomegranites. Then on the second day, we have services and a picnic here in the mountains. And of course there is more eating and schmoozing and playing games after.

So Rosh Hashanah is the serious time, the time that begins the ten days of t'shuvah (turning) and supplication for life. But although it is a synagogue holiday, there is also family time and time to be with one another. For what are we without family and friends?

The Days of Awe come down to this prayer:

"Remember us unto life, O King who delights in life; inscribe us in the Book of Life, O G-d of Life."

For really, that is what the whole idea of turning ourselves anew, and aiming the bows of our lives more truly. It is so that we may have the life that we were born to live and be the people we were meant to be.


Judy Aron said...

have a wonderful holiday..
L'Shana Tova to you all.

Lill said...

A very good New Year to you and your family. What a great job N. did describing the food and what will happen during Rosh Hashana. I love Tayglach and honey cake. I also love the cake made with apples, although its name escapes me. It has apples in it and on top also.

My niece is going to American Jewish University in LA and will be celebrating Rosh Hashana there. She says Hebrew is easier to learn than any other foreign language she's taken. Of course, she's young and very intelligent, which helps a lot.

I'll think of you on Rosh Hashana, eating honey cake and *aiming your bow* toward better things.


Melora said...

Happy Rosh Hashanah! The food sounds fabulous (great article, N.!), and the meaning is beautiful.

Nikol said...

That's all fine. What, however, do you think about Obadiah Shoher's criticism pf Rosh Hashanah as aholiday that has nothing to do with New Year? Here, for example http://samsonblinded.org/blog/petty-paganism.htmt

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Thanks for the good wishes from all!

Judy: I hope yours was as beautiful as ours was or more! L'Shana Tova!

Lill: I agree with your niece. I thought that Hebrew and Aramaic were both easier than Russian, Latin and even Spanish--which was a fun language to learn, too! I think it's because it is root-based. Or maybe because there are are no written vowels? Anyway--I enjoyed the honey cake! I think I'm going to bake some more this week!

Thanks, Melora, it was a wonderful holiday this year. The weather was absolutely lovely! All the food came out like it should. We had a nice time.

Nikol: I have not visited your blog, I don't think, but I will. I did go the link you provided. Frankly, the writer sounded angry in tone and fundamentalist in thought. I understand the development of religions and customs differently. Judaism is very old and many of the holidays have an agricultural basis to which were added later historical meanings based on the Ur stories of the Jewish people. On top of that have been added folk customs from the many lands in which Jews found themselves. Rosh Hashanah, for example, is a Biblical holiday that has to do with sounding the shofar and hearing the Torah read in public. The idea of the New Year in fall was probably added during the Babylonian captivity, because this is the time of the Babylonian New Year. The religious/historical meaning added here is the concept of the "birth of the world" and the creation of humanity. Overlaying that are foods from Europe and the middle east that have been given meanings by various associations. This is to be expected with an old tradition that has traveled to many lands over many centuries. It is the underlying meaning that we give it that is important.
The stories and customs are metaphors in a way--they are rich and complex and delight us, as they point us towards certain universal spiritual truths.

Rabbinic Judaism recognizes four different New Years--each with its own meanings and customs. One is a New Year for Months--in Nisan (Aviv), one is the New Year for counting the age of animals for sacrifice in summer, one is the New Year for counting years in Tishrei, and one is for the running of the sap in trees in Shevat.

Rather than being dismayed by this accretion of meaning and ritual, I find myself feeling wonder at the creativity and understanding of my fellow Jews and the myriad ways that they have found the Eternal lurking within the circumstances where ever they have found themselves!