The Rosh Hashanah Table
No matter where you are on the religious scale, you still eat dinner on Rosh Hashana. You may have a quick dinner of left overs or an elaborate dinner on a white table cloth, but you still eat dinner. So, let’s look at some ways that you can have a Rosh Hashana experience in the comfort of your own home.
On Rosh Hashana, just like on Passover, it is common to eat foods with symbolic meaning. Apples and honey are a well-known tradition on Rosh Hashana. This year bring the tradition up a notch by going apple picking for your own apples before the holiday. Serving apples that you picked will delight your children and/or grandchildren and gets everyone thinking about Rosh Hashana before it arrives. If you have a place near you that makes honey, make a trip with the kids and, of course, buy some fresh honey for your table. Some places also have beeswax sheets to buy which you can roll into your very own candles to use for bringing in the holiday.
While on Shabbat and holidays we put two braided challot (plural of challah) on the table, on Rosh Hashana we use two round challot. This is to emphasize the cyclical nature of life as we “come around” to another year. Some of the round challot have a braid on top. This is to emphasize the crown of God. (Since we proclaim God our King on Rosh Hashana this is an appropriate symbol.) Try to buy round challot for Rosh Hashana even if you haven’t in the past. This is a good way of talking to your children about how one year rolls into another year, but how we can try to make each year better for us and those around us.
To bring your connection to the challot up a notch, make your own challah. This is not as hard as it sounds and kids love to knead and shape the dough. By the way, many people add raisins into the challah to make it sweeter, especially on Rosh Hashana.
Instead of using salt on the challah after the blessing, on Rosh Hashana, it is dipped into honey. Some people continue this tradition all the way to Simchat Torah.
Before the meal begins, after eating the challah, there are some foods that many people eat to symbolically enhance the new year. With each of these items that we eat we say a y’hi ratzon, may it be Your will. For instance, when we eat the apples and honey you can say, “May it be Your will, God, that you renew for us a good and sweet year.” (If it bothers you for any reason to use God’s name, leave it out. You can just say, “May the new year renew for us a good and sweet year.” (You can similarly easily modify all of the wishes which are paired with the food below.)
The most common symbolic food to eat, after the apples and honey, is the fish head. Some families in Europe used to put sheep heads on the table instead. If you are like me, and don’t want a dead head on your table, but like the symbolism, buy some gummy fish candies or fish crackers and have your children cut the heads and put them on each plate. The reason for the heads is that we want to be like the head of the fish and not the tail. We want to think and be aware of things. We want to be leaders and not just follow the crowd like a tail follows a fish. With the head of the fish say, “May it be Your will, God, that we be like the head and not like the tail.”
Pomegranates come into season right around Rosh Hashana in Israel. But more importantly they have lots of seeds. The many seeds represent that we want to do many good things in the coming year. Before eating a pomegranate, say, “May it be Your will, God, that our merits be increased like the seeds of the pomegranate.”
Several foods are eaten because their name sounds like another word. The Hebrew for carrot is gezer. Since this sounds like the Hebrew word g’zar, which means decree, eating carrots symbolizes that we want God to nullify any negative decrees against us. Before eating the carrots say, “May it be your will, God, that our evil sentence be torn before You and our merits be read out before You.”
In Yiddish carrots are mern and the word for more is mer. This symbolizes that we want more blessings in the new year. For this reason, some people say, “May it be Your will, God, that our merits increase.”
Beets in Hebrew are called selek. This is similar to the word which means to remove. We want our enemies to be removed or to go away. Before eating beets say, “May it be Your will, God, that our adversaries be removed.”
Black eyed peas or rubia resembles the word l’harbot, which means to increase. This is the reason that we say, “May it be Your will, God, that our merits increase.”
The word for leeks is related to the word kareyt which means to cut. For leeks or cabbage, we say, “May it be Your will, God, that our enemies be cut off.”
The Hebrew for gourd and to rip are similar so we say, “May it be Your will, God, that the decree of our sentence be torn up and may our merits be proclaimed before You.”
The Hebrew for dates, t’marim, is similar to the word tam which means to end. Before eating a date, we say, “May it be Your will, God, that our enemies be consumed.”
Certainly don’t stress about getting all of the food above. The idea is just to make the meal more special and bring to the forefront that we are about to begin a new year. You can have fun with food and wishes. See if anyone can come up with sayings that represent what they want in the new year with food. For instance, put raisins on celery and say, “May this year bring a raise in salary.” (Raise is similar to raisin and salary sounds like celery.)
Of course many people end the meal with honey cake to finish off a sweet meal for a sweet year. Honey cakes are also very convenient as they are best made ahead of time. Let your children make the cake. While they are baking you have a great opportunity to talk to them about what makes a sweet year. And of course this includes things which we can do better next year to make everyone’s life sweeter!
My family also has a tradition of making taiglach. My grandmother made it and I asked her to teach me how to make it. I am now the only one left in my family who makes it. When we eat this sweet treat, we not only think about a sweet New Year; we also think about her! When I have given this treat out to relatives I have actually seen tears in some of their eyes! I have given them a little bit of my sweet grandmother, who everyone adored!
The recipe takes a long time to make, but for me, her memory is worth it! This is really a Rosh Hashana treat as I, like her, only make the taiglach once a year. If you want to make something different, try making taiglach. The first part is easier to make with a helper and even young children can really be useful as you make the first part which is called mandel. I know that my grandmother would be thrilled if you made a recipe from her family. Since this also freezes well you can make it ahead of time and not feel under pressure right before the holiday.
Just as you bring meaning to your table on Rosh Hashana may your whole year be a meaningful one!
Here is my grandmother Mary’s (Tamara in Hebrew) recipe:
8 eggs, separated
½ cup oil
¼ cup sugar
3 cups flour (approximately – you will probably need more)
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 ¼ cups honey (approximately)
1 teaspoon ginger
1 cup nuts
Separate the eggs. Beat the egg yolks with sugar. Add oil and beat well. Add sifted flour and baking powder alternately with the well-beaten egg whites. Fold the egg whites into the mixture, don’t stir. Let stand for ½ hour.
On a floured board roll out the dough into long pencil-like rounded strips. This is where you will need more flour, especially the first few times you roll out the dough. Now comes a very helpful job for children. With a knife, it doesn’t have to be very sharp, cut the strips into small pieces. Bake on ungreased pans until light brown at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Shake the pan often. You may have to use a spatula to flip the pieces if they are sticking to the pan. Divide the pieces if they are sticking together. The pieces will fill about two large cookie sheets.
This completes the first part of the taiglach which is called mandel. You can take a break at this point and place the mandel in an airtight container in the fridge or continue.
Prepare a well-watered board (a thin layer of water across the whole board) to put the taiglach on. I like to use a glass cutting board. Bring honey to a boil. To stir the honey mixture, I like to use a silicon spoon or stiff spatula. Add ginger. Add the baked mandel and cook until golden brown. You must stir often, if not continuously. Add nuts. Mix and pour it on to the well-watered board. Pat down with the spatula so that it is an even thickness. Be careful as the honey is very hot. If you are going to use your hand, make sure to put your hand in cold water before touching to prevent burning your hand. Sprinkle with coconut. I usually keep some without coconut because some people don’t like it. When cool cut into squares. Store in an airtight container. Freezes well.
Marcia Goldlist is a regular contributor of blog postings on Jewish Values Online. She was the author of one of the blog postings selected for the Second Quarter 5779 Jewish Values Online Best Blogs.
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