Monday, September 24, 2012

a rosh hashanah of simanim

rosh hashanah, the jewish new year, marking 5773 years since the creation of the world and of humankind, just passed last week. on the first night, when we gather together at dinner, it is customary to eat certain symbolic foods, the most well known of which is to dip an apple in honey for a sweet new year. as an aside, my two year old nephew gave a rousing rendition of the dip an apple in honey song, of which we have about seven videos, all of which he insisted we make of him, he is a little star in the making, well, at least of his yeshiva production of channah and her seven sons. it was particularly poignant because i remember being a little kid singing that song myself, and while rosh hashanah is the new year and a day of dialogue with our creator and a day to contemplate life, it is also a day to mark the transition of one year into the next with your family and friends, the generations gathered together.

anyhow, i digress. the simanim. there are in fact numerous simanim other than apple in honey, some of which have specific "yihi ratzons" or little prayers based on word play associated with the name of the item. for a modern take on the idea when we eat dates my sister always blesses everyone to have lots of hot dates that year, although traditionally they revolve more around the destruction of one's enemies, but you get the idea. most people (at least nowadays, i have no idea what was done historically) eat a bite of each symbolic food at the beginning of the meal and then move on to the real food, but i thought it would be fun to have the real food be made of the simanim and then as each course is brought out to discuss the symbolism of that food and what we would like to manifest in our coming year corresponding to it. i thought it would be a lovely way to focus the dinner on the moment of transcendence that rosh hashanah represents that we were currently in the midst of but in a very relatable way. what follows below is a list of all the simanim i could find and the corresponding menu, note that the list might not be exhaustive, and if you know any others please let me know. also, since the original list of simanim is not in english there is some confusion over what certain words mean and therefore may exist more than one opinion as to which food they are, in that case i tried to incorporate as many as possible, especially because most of them are vegetables and the more colorful veggies on your plate the healthier your new year will be.

the simanim:
fish heads
fatty meats
sweet drinks
black eyed peas

the menu:

1st course:
-whole wheat challah
-raw honey tachina

-pan seared striped bass stuffed with a black eyed pea hash
-salad of spinach, avocado, pomegranate seeds and apples
-lemon and toasted sesame cabbage slaw

soup course:
-coconut butternut soup with lots of ginger and nutmeg

main course:
-spicy sweet brisket with dates and dried apricots
-lavender balsamic honey roasted chicken
-quinoa (to soak up all those geshmake meat juices)
-roasted beets and leeks

dessert course:
-carrot cake with parve cream cheese frosting
to drink:
-agave sweetened pomegranate lemonade
-some dry red wine, this year we went with the catina gabriele montepulciano d'abruzzo and the en fuego tempranillo
and for the table:
-white flowers
there is a custom on rosh hashanah and yom kippur to wear white, and in particular for married men to wear a kittel, it reminds us that life can never be taken for granted, that we only have a limited number of days on earth and to make each one count, and it inspires us to strive to be like the angels and do good in the world. when i was little we davened at a little shiteibel in boro park where i grew up, a shteibel being just a very little cute shul, anyhow we davened by the deshe chasidim, and though the womens section was usually empty on shabbos, all the women being home with their children, on rosh hashanah the rebbetzin and her daughters would come downstairs and they would be dressed all in white head to toe, and they would stay in shul from the moment in started until the moment it ended, and even though they were totally separate from the men in a womens section of near silence they would pray. with tears on their cheeks, for hours, standing in front of the creator of the universe, making a din v'cheshbon, an honest assessment of their lives, asking him for goodness. it was the most powerful example of female prayer i was witness to in my youth, and i still think about the simultaneous feelings of malchus, of majesty, and also of bittul, the giving of oneself to god, that those women embodied.

so yes, i like to have white flowers on my table on rosh hashanah as well, and carry over the theme of purity and renewal it symbolizes.
right now we are in the aseres yimmei teshuvah, the ten days of repentance between rosh hashanah, the day we are judged, and yom kippur, the day we are forgiven. blessings that we use this time for self reflection, for growth, for connecting with loved ones, for soulful explorations, for speaking aloud with the divine and sharing with him what is on our minds and in our hearts. blessings to know that if we will it all is forgiven. may we be written and sealed for a new year of goodness. of sweetness. and many many smiles.

happy eating!

ps- i realize i did not actually give you any recipes in this post, it was more one of ideas, but if something sparked your imagination give a holler and i will happily share how i made it.