Jewish High Holiday Marathon
by Zehorit Ashbel Heilicher, Tastemaker in Residence
As summer fades into the first cool days of autumn, along with Jews around the world, I start the planning, shopping and recipe testing for the High Holiday Marathon. “A holiday Marathon?“ You might wonder - well, imagine three short weeks that include three significant holidays with different focus, tone, foods and customs. Oh my! This holiday season begins with celebrating the new year, transitions into considering the past year and an accounting of our misdeeds, moves into experiencing our vulnerability and finally, into accepting life’s fragility. What a way to start a new year!
The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, starts on the eve of the first day of the month of Tishrei: festive, celebratory and full of hope and good wishes for the future. Our home, like many others, welcomes family members, friends, visitors and neighbors to gather for a cheerful meal. This year we maxed ourselves out at thirty seven guests, ranging in age from eleven to eighty two. This was no tame, quiet and somber crowd, but boisterous and upbeat. As people arrived with contributions of food, my counter groaned under platters of roasted potatoes, caramelized broccoli, sautéed green beans and more. We opened the evening with a welcome and a harmonized song of Shevet Ahim Gam Yahad - “How good it is for brethren to sit together” and followed with the customary candle lighting and blessings over bread and wine. Reigning in the chatter and laughter of our guests, we ushered in a sweet and joyful year, dipping apples in honey with the blessing “L’Shanah Tovah U’Metukah” – To a good and sweet new year.
Pomegranates are another staple of this holiday season, as Jewish tradition claims that the number of seeds in a pomegranate equals the number of commandments in the Torah – six hundred and thirteen. Every year I go on a hunt to find pomegranates in Minnesota in September and October – no easy task! Long gone are my days in Israel, when I could go to my grandmother’s house and pick some from her tree… This year, my son’s two college best buddies, who are not Jewish, happened to be traveling cross country and landed on our door step just in time to join us for their first ever Jewish New Year. I wasted no time by putting them to work extracting pomegranate seeds from the fruit. As they are all millennials, the natural thing for them was to research the best technique online. They ended up splitting it in half and whacking it with a wooden spoon until all seeds were released. Noisy, but effective and best of all – I did not have to do it!! The ruby, jewel like seeds were passed around during the meal and a blessing was said before they were consumed: “May our good deeds be as plentiful as the seeds of a pomegranate”.
We proceeded to have a sumptuous meal that included an untraditional rosemary brisket, roasted herbed turkey and Moroccan fish cakes in spicy tomato sauce. Salads and the vegetables mentioned above were a hit as well and we barely had room for the chocolate glazed honey cake. Eastern European apple cake, brownies and fresh fruit. The grand finale of the evening was a rousing Birkat Hamazon, a song of grace after the meal, led by our young adults and teens in the tradition they have learned in their summers at Jewish camps. What an evening!
Read more about the Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and the following holidays.