Pomegranates, Apples & Honey

by Zehorit Heilicher, Tastemaker in Residence

Shiny glass apples, colorful ceramic pomegranates and decorative honey pots are being resurrected from our basement to be washed, buffed and displayed. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year is around the corner and the preparations have begun. This High Holiday season is one of my favorites: at once awakening in me a longing for my childhood home and an appreciation of the one I have built here.

It is our custom to host our family and friends for a festive meal on the eve of the first day of the month of Tishrei, featuring food symbols of the holiday. 

Rosh Hashanah (literally “the head of the year”) is an opportunity to celebrate with loved ones, acknowledge our blessings, contemplate our challenges in the upcoming year and express our hopes for the future. The rituals during the meal are designed to engage us in this process. 

We begin by lighting candles, sipping wine and breaking bread – all with accompanied blessings. Then apples are dipped in honey and the wish for a year “as sweet as apples in honey” is recited. Fresh, ruby-red pomegranates are placed in bowls, their seeds ready for eating. It is believed that pomegranates hold 613 seeds – the exact number of divine commandments, or Mitzvot. Therefore, it has become customary to have them as part of the celebratory meal, accompanied with the blessing “May our good deeds be as plentiful as the seeds of a pomegranate”.  Conversations will ebb and flow to a variety of topics: from politics to rituals to values, more so as our family’s younger generation is coming of age. I love watching that unfold!

The meal that follows features fish, either as the Askenazi (eastern European) Gefilte fish or the Sephardic (originating from Spain) more spiced and sauced version. Chicken or /and brisket are served as well, culminating with desserts featuring apples and honey. My Mom’s honey cake is a must!

The two days following the holiday meal are the most well attended days in synagogues around the world, along with Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement – a day of fast), which follows ten days later. These holidays have a collective pull on the Jewish community that seems to defy levels of observance. Part of the prayers rituals for these holidays is the blowing of the Shofar (a ram’s horn). This ritual harkens back to biblical times as a call to attention and action. This holiday season nourishes and challenges the body and soul – bringing us together as a community, yet asking us to be thoughtful of our place in life and society. As I said, one of my very favorites!