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Color, taste symbolize a fortune-filled Rosh Hashana

Rosh Hashana, which is today and Thursday, celebrates the birthday of the world. Jews reflect on the past year and pray for peace and life in the coming year - 5768, according to the traditional calendar.

"We pray for forgiveness for mistakes that we have made over the past year," says Terri Anderson, education director for Temple of Israel in Greenville, N.C. "We're looking for forgiveness from God and from other people. So more during this holiday, we're trying to make amends for failures and reflect on the year to come."

Food has traditionally figured prominently in the holiday, as it does with most Jewish holidays, says Anderson, because Rosh Hashana is celebrated during the fall, a time of harvest. Most dishes served during the two-day celebration focus on brightly colored foods, used to symbolize hopes for a new year.

"It was about the Earth and harvest," Anderson says. "So foods played a big part in Jewish life in biblical times, and thanking God for what we have in the form of food was very important."

The traditional Rosh Hashana table focuses on dishes and foods that are sweet, because, Anderson says, people wish for a sweet year to come. Most tables are set with apples and honey for dipping, and even savory dishes are given a sweet finish. The way foods are prepared and what foods are prepared often depend on the family and their cultural background.

In Judaism, there are two main cultural groups: the Ashkenazi, with origins in Eastern and Western Europe and Russia; and the Sephardic, with origins in Mediterranean countries and Northern Africa. Most of the traditions that people think of as Jewish in the United States come from the Ashkenazi Jews who immigrated to the U.S. from Russia and Poland. Anderson says many traditions govern the foods that are prepared.

“The food comes from what grows in those countries,” says Fifi Rachima, a Sephardic Jew who was born in Morocco and grew up in Israel. “Moroccan dishes have lots of fruits. And people descended from Spain, so they brought their own ways of making things, with olive oil, olives and garlic.”

Rachima follows her mother’s tradition of serving fish with the head on during Rosh Hashana. Before the fish is eaten, the family says a prayer over the dish asking that they be at the head, and not the tail, of the year to come. When Joyce Klein thinks about Rosh Hashana dinner, the New York native, whose family is Ashkenazi, usually includes fish as well, but it is in the form of gefilte fish.

In addition, she serves challah, a traditional egg bread served for Shabbat, every Friday night. Though generally the bread is braided, for Rosh Hashanah it is served as a round, to set the day apart. “There are a lot of symbols done through food,” Klein says. “We have round bread to wish each other a smooth new year.”

To bring good fortune in the year to come, most tables include a carrot dish. Both the orange color and the shape of a chopped carrot are thought to resemble a gold coin. Traditionally Klein serves carrots in an Eastern European dish called tzimmes, which is made up of carrots, prunes and, often, sweet potatoes. She also serves potato or noodle kugel, a sort of pudding.

Rachima serves what she calls the seven fruits and vegetables of the season. She usually uses root vegetables such as onions, carrots, leeks, squash or sweet potatoes and steams them to retain their bright color. To complete the seven, she arranges sliced apples and grapes in a separate bowl. The last and most important piece is a pomegranate, which Rachima slices, sprinkles with sugar and puts in a bowl.

"These symbolize the bounty of the season, what comes from the ground and what comes from the trees,” Rachima says. “The pomegranate is the most important because it means you will be as prosperous as the pomegranate seeds.”

Source: coloradoan.com


Publication date: 9/13/2007


 


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