Thursday, September 20, 2012

Shana Tova U’Metuka

יהי רצון מלפניך ה' אלוקינו ואלקי אבותינו, שתחדש עלינו שנה טובה ומתוקה
May it be Your will, Lord our God and God of our ancestors, that you renew for us a good and sweet year.

Another Rosh HaShana has come and gone. It’s one of my favorite holidays, certainly in the top fifteen or so; before Pesach, but after Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur you don’t have to wash ten thousand dishes. Two times a day.

Rosh HaShana is one of those times that you’re allowed, indeed encouraged, to try new recipes and ingredients. My email and Facebook page were full of new recipe ideas and ways to use food that I had never thought of before. In addition, there are all these fun things available to buy in the markets and grocery stores.
Piles of red pomegranates, available only during the holidays, are situated next to piles of yellow dates, which are next to piles of all sorts of other fruits and vegetables I’ve never even heard of.

Everyone eats an apple dipped in honey to symbolize our hope of being blessed with a sweet year. In addition, there are many other fruits and vegetables that act as symbols of other blessings we pray for in the coming year. In the past few years, our family has added many of these to our Rosh HaShana dinner. We start by eating fruits of the Land of Israel. We eat that king of fruit, the crowned pomegranate, which symbolizes righteousness, and ask that we may have the ability and opportunity to do as many mitzvot as there are seeds in a pomegranate. (There are those who claim that there are 613 seeds in each pomegranate – the amount of mitzvoth recorded in the Torah – but I’ve never counted.) Pomegranates stain something terrible, by the way.
The crowned king of fruits


We eat dates because the Hebrew word for dates – tamar – sounds like the Hebrew word yitamu (should end) as in “the days of those who hate us should end. Fresh dates – our guests at dinner had never seen fresh dates before – can only be eaten if first frozen then defrosted. They don’t much resemble dried dates.

We eat a carrot (gezer) and hope that there will be no ‘gzeirot raot’ (evil decrees) against the Jewish people in the coming year. I wonder if that includes the banning of circumcision in European countries. We eat beets (selek) so as l’salek oiveinu (banish our enemies). There seems to be a theme running through these prayers….


One of the symbolic foods we eat is rubiya. I was assured by the clerk in the supermarket that rubiya, which is an Aramaic word, is bamya—Hebrew for okra. I took the clerk’s word for it, because what do I know? It’s all Greek to me. So, despite okra, or bamya, being the only food on earth my sister refuses to eat (she wasn’t going to be there anyway), I bought enough pieces for everyone to have one at the meal. When we got to the rubiya part (rubiya sounds like yirbu – to increase – as in yirbu zchutainu, our merits should increase), we all took a healthy bite of the bamya/okra. The more mature among us did not spit it out. One member of the family said that it tasted like octopus.
My sister was on to something.

Okra, aslo known as octopus

Of course, it turns out that bamya/okra is not rubiya, but loobiya (both Aramaic words) and that rubiya was in fact fenugreek. Whatever that is. As I said, it turns out correctly; it’s all Greek to me.
The second to last symbolic food is the head of a fish or sheep. In the supermarkets this year, I saw boxed heads of sheep (they are much smaller than you would think). That was a bit creepy for me, and we sufficed with a head of a fish. Of course, being a dedicated non-fish-eater, the heads I served were made of gummy candy. And were actually sharks, not fish. We ask that we be like the head and not the tail. As sharks must keep moving forward or they die, but we can’t eat real sharks as they aren’t kosher, eating gummy candy sharks makes perfect sense and is very symbolic. Also tastes better than okra.
We ended the symbolic portion of our meal with an apple dipped in honey, so that the coming year should be a sweet one. I’m not a great honey fan, so I had another gummy shark.
A Shark
On the second night of Rosh HaShana, we did the same again (once again spitting out the bamya/okra) but ended with eating a new fruit, i.e., a seasonal autumn fruit that we hadn’t eaten yet that season. The choices in the market were wide. I wanted to buy fresh figs, because, not only are they one of the fruits of the Land of Israel (along with pomegranates, dates, and olives) fresh figs, which bear no relationship to dried figs, are totally delicious. Unfortunately, by the time I got around to buying them, they were no longer available. There were sabras (cactus pears) for sale, but they looked pretty pathetic. Oranges would have sufficed, as we had not yet eaten any oranges this season, but not only are oranges boring, the ones on sale were green. In the end, I bought star fruit (carambola) and ‘chavushim’. I had to look up chavushim in the dictionary. It’s a quince. Then I had to look up quince in the dictionary. Then I had to look up how to serve quinces. It turns out that I was required to peel and slice the quince and poach the pieces in water. Then I had to look up what poached means. Just kidding. Kind of.

So I dutifully peeled the quinces and attempted to slice them. As they were harder than rock and almost broke my knife, I gave up and boiled the suckers whole. Then I sliced them.
We ate them the next night. Nobody at the table had ever eaten a quince before—my kids had never even heard the word. We bit into them and the reactions were mixed. It was eventually decided that they taste like a potato trying very hard to be an apple but not quite succeeding.

Star fruit - looks better than it tastes

The carambola – which just had to be sliced and not peeled, poached, boiled or cored – tasted like sour rubber tires. With the skin, it tasted like old sour rubber tires.

Next year, I’m going for boring oranges, or better yet, gummy oranges.

All in all, it was a lot of fun, and took my mind off the dishes waiting to be washed, and my soldier-son spending the chag in Ramallah. I wonder if they had quinces there. I hear the humus is good though.

Wishing all of Am Yisrael a Shana Tova U’Metuka, a year of sweetness, with only good things to eat, filled with happiness, health, and joy. And no okra.