Celebrating the sweetness of a new year.
This time of year, millions of people around the world will begin celebrations for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Beginning on September 25th at sundown on the first day of Tishrei in the Hebrew calendar and ending at nightfall on September 27th, Rosh Hashanah 2022 will mark a time of reflection on the last year and making changes for the one ahead.
A Season of Change
As our community member Samantha shares from New York, the Jewish New Year finds its origins “as it is when the Torah starts from the beginning with the book of Genesis, and the story of the birth of Adam and Eve.” Meaning “head of the year” and occurring at the shift to a new moon, Rosh Hashanah is observed through prayer in reverence for the creation of all creatures on earth, with shofar blasts, and joyful celebration. People will greet one another in the spirit of fresh beginnings with “Shanah tovah um'tukah”—”May you have a good and sweet new year”—or a simple “Shanah Tovah.”
“When I became a teacher,” Samantha reflects, “Rosh Hashanah also symbolized the beginning of my year, with new students, new goals, new ideas, and a palpable feel of excitement. My daughter was born on the sabbath of Rosh Hashanah six years ago, which seemed so fitting as she came into this world at the start of a new year. Since she was born, it became important to me to create our own family traditions and rituals that would help shape and guide her.”
Traditional Sounds of the Shofar
Rosh Hashanah is also known as The Feast of Trumpets due to its deep traditions surrounding the shofar. Ben explains, “A shofar is a rams horn that is blown during services during the high holidays and in particular during the services for Rosh Hashana.” Each blow of the horn is significant for many reasons, marking different stages of the new year and serving as a reminder to self-reflect and make positive changes.
During his childhood, Ben imagined that the shofar sound was like a horn blowing at a sporting event to start a new match, just as a new year begins. Many of Ben’s recollections around the shofar are also intertwined with memories of his father and the role he played during Rosh Hashanah, both in their community and his own life:
“My Dad owned a shofar and would occasionally have the honor of blowing the shofar in front of the congregation during services . . . Dad was really good at making his lips tighter or looser to change the sound that the shofar made . . . I could tell that he took pride in the specific sounds that he could produce. Dad would practice sometimes at home and he would have me say the sound to blow and he would practice the sounds.”
Tekiah - 1 blast
Shevarim - 3 hard sounds during one blow
Teruah - a staccato sound like 9 little short spurts
Tekiah Gadolah - a single, long blast (Ben’s personal favourite)
“During Tekiah Gadolah, Dad would take a giant breath and let a continuous stream come out, and it felt like it would just go on forever. During a service when many members of the congregation would come up for the sounding of the shofar, they would all start at the same time—but Dad would always be the last one still going with a steady stream, and everyone else would be looking over at him in awe as the sound continued to go on far past all the other people. That is a highlight memory of my childhood.”
Looking back after many years celebrating Rosh Hashanah, Ben’s father David also recognizes the shofar as a source of poignant memories. Despite now being miles apart from his son, with Ben living in North Carolina and David in Boston, this appreciation for the shofar continues a long family tradition that has been passed down across generations.
“The sound of the shofar during Rosh Hashanah services has always moved me to the core,” says David. “I have no doubt this is a common response to the ancient calls. What makes my memories a bit more unique comes from the fact that my father, who was a Reform rabbi, invited me as a teenager (then a student of the trumpet) to serve as the Baal T’kiah (Shofar Blower) for his congregation.
Fast forward to Yom Kippur 1973, and I was living in Israel. Just before the afternoon services were to begin, air raid sirens were going off in Jerusalem and I soon learned that Israel had been attacked in the South and a war had begun. A few hours later, as the concluding service was winding down, I found myself once again holding the shofar preparing to blow the final Tekiah Gedolah while having some sense of what was happening along Israel’s borders. To this day, I still get shivers when I hear the sound of the shofar.”
Snapshots of Rosh Hashanah: Around Our Tables
As we’ve discovered at Root & Seed, some of the best parts of holidays for many is the food, and Rosh Hashanah has so many beautiful traditions and memories that can be found around loved ones’ tables.
As Julie grew up in Toronto, she looked forward to these family meals the most:
“Lunch was always with my grandma, eating schnitzel. The kids always used to have a contest to see who could eat the most schnitzel. Dinner was always at my other grandmas, which was always a large dinner where all the cousins could play. The house would always smell of challah because the big tradition was to eat the challah and apples with honey - to represent our hopes to bring in a sweet new year. The menu is such a symbolic component of the holiday. We alway had Myron Szimmis (carrots in a honey sauce) with roast beef, and then honey cake and apple strudel for dessert."
As Julie mentions, much of what is eaten during this holiday is symbolic, such as having round challah as a nod to the circular nature of the year (in place of the braided loaves seen throughout many other celebrations).
Embracing the “sweetness” of starting a new year is another significant thread that ties many food traditions together. For instance, it’s common to eat a new or seasonal fruit that hasn’t been tasted since the previous year, or to dip apples in honey:
“I really enjoyed this tradition as well, as sweets were in low supply growing up,” recalls Ben. “This is something that I try to do with my family now. I think that it is a great way to be optimistic about the year ahead. I guess the sound and taste of the holiday is what stands out the most making sure that you realize a New Year has begun and it will be a sweet one.”
Samantha also paints a vivid picture of the joys found in her family’s holiday meals. Spending one evening with her in-laws, Sam recalls the small things that stand out—a family member’s creative culinary offerings, time spent learning about Judaism, her brother-in-law napping on an old wooden framed couch, and her nieces, nephews, and daughter running around and screaming throughout the small apartment. “I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
“The other night of Rosh Hashanah is spent at our house, with my parents, sister, brother-in-law, nephews, and occasionally close family friends. I love hosting, despite our terribly small kitchen (two people can not work comfortably in it), and tight squeeze with our dining room table and card table extensions. I love cooking it all, and politely tell my mother she does not have to cook anything (she does not listen); my father uses any Jewish holiday as an excuse to make his chopped liver and latkes.”
Samantha’s table holds many pieces of her family’s traditions and memories, from the table settings to the dishes she carefully prepares. “Our table is set with my grandparent’s china, my great grandparents silver candlesticks and Kiddush cup. I cook from memory; making my grandmother’s brisket and dessert, roast chicken, matzo ball soup, and a vegetable.” Throughout the meal preparation, Samantha’s daughter Charlotte learns alongside her mother and assists.
For a delicious matzo ball soup, Samantha adds a few of her own twists to her family’s traditional recipes. “Charlotte helps me make my matzo ball soup, adding pepper, and a splash of seltzer to make the matzo balls fluffy. For the soup I use the soup mix that comes in the box, and add chicken broth, water, and soup vegetables . . . My roast chicken is a recipe I have changed and perfected over the years. I season it similarly to the way I season my perneil (a Puerto Rican roast pork), using Kosher Salt, garlic, paprika, and balsamic vinegar. It comes out juicy on the inside with crispy skin, and there are never any leftovers. Usually I will make roasted brussel sprouts which I cook with capers, a little anchovy paste, olive oil, and pancetta or bacon; we are not a Kosher family.
We will have my father’s latkes, which really are delicious, and will gather around our table, recite blessings, dip apples in honey (my least favorite, and my daughter’s favorite two foods) and wish eachother a sweet New Year. For dessert I make my grandmother’s angel food cake with strawberries in syrup and whipped cream. It is terribly unhealthy, but eating it reminds me of my grandmother, our holidays with her growing up, and it makes me smile.”
A Sweet New Year Spent with Loved Ones
We were overwhelmed by all the beautiful memories that our community shared with us for Rosh Hashanah, with so many harkening back to meaningful traditions, memories, and heirlooms carried forward from childhood into the present. The New Year (no matter when you celebrate it) is always a time to reflect on the past, and our hope is that we all treasure the loved ones—our elders, children, and friends—who will make this year’s shift into a new season of life all the more special.
We also invite you to gather your loved ones during the celebrations and start a conversation around the Rosh Hashanah traditions and memories that are unique to your family—explore the Root & Seed Conversation Tool, where you can find questions and thought-provoking holiday prompts for the whole family.
What are your favourite Rosh Hashanah memories? Share in the comments below!
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