This year’s Rosh Hashanah cover featured a photographer by Saanich-based biologist Leah Ramsay (leaningoaks.ca).
Domestic honeybees, like this one, were introduced to the east coast of North America from Europe in 1622. Aided by settlers, it took a couple hundred years before they reached the West Coast. Today, they are found across the continent, with both domestic and feral populations. There are estimates that up to 80 percent of all crops in North America are dependent on bee pollination – both the honey and the apples eaten during Rosh Hashanah are dependent on bees for their production, plus multitudes of other food and forage crops. The other species in the photo is the annual plant, Sea Blush. It is a native wildflower that grows in meadows on the West Coast and produces carpets of pink in the spring. They are often alive with the introduced honeybee and native bumble bees.
It’s the children, at first, that inspire awe, the infants now walking, the toddlers talking, the grade schoolers freshly combed and pressed, the high schoolers immense, the college students all but unrecognizable in their newfound sophistication. The brief span of 12 months has metamorphosed them all. They enter the sanctuary this Rosh Hashanah morning with an eye to audience and reunion, conscious, as at few other times, of their own growth and maturity, the oldest children flanking their parents with an air of independence, the slick-haired sons towering over balding fathers, the bejeweled daughters as carefully coifed and clothed as their mothers, all proud of what they have become.
Change is everywhere: new siblings sit wedged between the old, once-single adults arrive partnered, young wives enter expectant, older couples return fractured, cleaved in twain by death or divorce. Gravity exerts its inexorable pull upon the bowed backs of the oldest congregants; the cast of many a head has grown silver; chins have sprouted beards, foreheads become more deeply furrowed, eyes less acute.
I sit among my own altered children marveling at this tidal wave of transformation passing through our midst, hoisting some as it submerges others, bearing all of us, inexorably, toward eternity. From day to day, the alchemy of aging goes unremarked, even as our children molt before our eyes. We are not meant to be conscious of every instant of change, preferring not to be reminded of the mortality and uncertainty it implies. We seek instead a reassuring constancy, a routine that grounds and sustains us, though we know our time here is all too finite, that even as we feel most anchored, we are slowly, imperceptibly, drifting out to sea. The image in today’s mirror looks no different than the one that greeted us yesterday. But a snapshot of that face a year hence tells a very different tale.
And those snapshots are what we carry with us as we enter the synagogue these High Holy Days and stare in amazement at the undeniable alteration a single year has wrought upon the familiar landscape of family and friends. It is both exhilarating and alarming, and it, more than the prayers we have come together to recite, prepares us for these Days of Awe, this personal accounting of conduct and intention, impulse and resolve.
The prospect is daunting as we join our kinsfolk and face squarely into the probing light of conscience. There is no interlocutor but the self, and perhaps no other judge. We arraign ourselves before a court of inquiry, concede doubt and weakness, ask for certainty and strength, then render judgment, emerging chastened, cleansed, perhaps annealed. We give thanks for blessings and acknowledge the fragility of our contentments, knowing that tomorrow may challenge our every conviction, undermine our serenity, rob us of everything we hold dear.
And, as we sit side by side, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, parents and children, we discover portals to conciliation where perhaps only provocation and resistance prevailed. We rediscover tenderness and vulnerability and the myriad contradictions of our humanness. Against a backdrop of responsive prayer, we reflect upon the great challenges of parenting, on marriage’s call to remain emotionally committed, on the biblical injunction to honor our aging and increasingly infirm parents. We recite the liturgy of awe – admissions of frailty and failure, entreaties for greater understanding, for strength, for forgiveness. The gnawing hunger of Yom Kippur afternoon begins in the murmuring mouth of Rosh Hashanah, as we empty the casks of self-justification, discarding great stores of blind self-interest, and live for a time consuming nothing but the thought of our own imperfection.
And yet … while these Days of Awe clarify and distil us, they cannot sustain us. We are not cloistered contemplatives; we require a richer diet, one free of the astringent bite of continuous self-scrutiny. We need to live, to test our resolve. The gates will close, the great accounting will conclude for another year, and we will turn back to life renewed by these days of honest soul-searching, passing from assessment to action.
As the final song is sung, I turn to my family, wondering what has passed through their hearts during these hours of prayer. My son seems wrung out by so much stasis, eager to shed his confining clothes, grab a basketball and burst back into the light. My daughters yearn for the disembodied voices of friends, silver cellphones shimmering in their restless hands. My wife looks upon them with gratitude, awakening anew to the miracle of their presence in our lives, their youth, their beauty, their remarkable growth. She kisses each cheek, then takes my face in her hands and murmurs, “L’shana tova.”
May it be so for us all.
Steven Schnur, a member of Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, N.Y., teaches writing at Sarah Lawrence College. This article was originally published in Reform Judaism magazine, and can be found at reformjudaism.org/these-days-awe. It is reprinted with permission.
Carrots represent the hope that Israel’s enemies will be “cut off,” or kept away. (photo by Stephen Ausmus / USARS via en.wikipedia.org)
Most Jews, religious or not, celebrate Passover, opening the holiday with a seder – fewer know that a seder is held on Rosh Hashanah, too. Being the year’s first meal, it gains higher importance in Jewish tradition and, therefore, should be special.
In the seder of Rosh Hashanah, a dedicated prayer is said, then a meal with symbolic foods is served, each food representing a different blessing for the people of Israel. Some of these foods have a unique prayer that is said prior to eating them. These foods differ slightly between communities, yet some are common, and are served on both religious and secular tables.
As some of the seder foods may stand for similar blessings, not all of them have been preserved among secular Jews. The most common traditional food served at Rosh Hashanah is an apple, dipped in honey; this custom represents a blessing for the year to be as sweet as honey. Gefilte fish is also served, usually having slightly sweet flavor, for the procreation of the people of Israel like the propagation of fish. On the gefilte fish, sliced carrots are placed, a symbol for Israel’s enemies to be “cut off.”
A fish head is displayed/served, symbolizing a blessing for the people of Israel to be the head and not the tail. This blessing has two meanings: (a) we will be the thinkers, the inventors; (b) we will gain leadership by moving forward, following our own will; not backwards, following other peoples’ will.
Sometimes, a beet or beet leaves are served for the removal of Israel’s enemies. A pomegranate is served, its many seeds symbolic of the many mitzvot that the Jewish people have and hope to continue to have.
Although linguistically not necessarily related historically, some of the foods are traditionally linked to their blessings by their Hebrew roots: the carrots placed on the gefilte fish are called gezer (pl. gzarim, root gzr) in Hebrew. The blessing of cutting off Israel’s enemies that is symbolized by the carrots makes use of the root gzr: “sheig az ru oyveynu,” “let our enemies be cut off.” The beet (leaves) is selek (root: slk); the related blessing: “she-is talku oyveynu ve-son’eynu,” “let our enemies and haters be gone,” is also represented by the same root slk, “remove.”
Other traditional foods either make use of a semantic feature of the original notion, or they have undergone a semantic shift to adapt to the holiday’s blessings. For example, we use the feature of quantity of the schools of fish for the parallel blessing: “shenifre ve-nirbe ke-dagim,” “let us procreate [literally: be fruitful and multiply] as fish.”
The fish head represents the brain, as well as the mind, which spiritually lies in the brain, and leadership, by being the head, the first in everything. This word gains a double meaning, as it appears in the name of the holiday, Rosh Hashanah, as well as in rishon, “first,” derived from rosh, “head.”
I wrote down some of these thoughts from my home shelter during the war. Let us hope to be blessed in the future with real rimonim (pomegranates’ fruit), and not rimone-yad (hand grenade). Let us bless southern Israeli fishermen to be able to continue fishing, and farmers to be able to continue selling their honey, carrots and beets, so that all of us can have a peaceful Rosh Hashanah seder. Happy New Year.
Nurit Dekelis an independent academic researcher of colloquial Israeli Hebrew, and principal linguist at NSC-Natural Speech Communication; author of Colloquial Israeli Hebrew: A Corpus-based Survey. She is based in southern Israel.
Fish is a traditional part of the Rosh Hashanah meal. Since Rosh Hashanah translates literally as “Head of the Year,” some people will eat the head of a fish as part of the holiday meal, or at least have one on their holiday table. Fish is also a symbol of fertility and prosperity.
Today, we will make a beautiful fish from Plasticine. While you won’t be able to eat it, you can add it to the table with other symbols of the holiday.
For this art project, you will need various colors of Plasticine or Play Doh.
1. First, we make the body of the fish. Roll a small ball from blue Plasticine.
2. Flatten the ball with the palm of your hand and flip onto the other side.
3. With the tip of your fingers, gently raise the edges on both sides.
4. Now make a top fin. You will need three small pieces of dark blue or purple Plasticine. Using a toothpick, attach the top fin to the body of the fish.
5. Use yellow Plasticine to make a bottom fin.
6. Add an orange fin on top of the yellow one.
7. With the help of a toothpick, make an indent for the mouth. Later, using pink Plasticine, create heart-shaped lips. Attach the lips to the body.
8. Using white and black Plasticine assemble an eye, and add it to what you’ve already put together.
9. Our fish is almost ready! We just need to add scales. Make a small green ball and flatten it. Add this newly formed circle to the body. Now, create many of these circles and decorate your fish with beautiful and colorful scales.
Instead of circles, you may create stripes or any other unique designs – and, of course, you can use any colors you want for any part of your fish. Art is a soul’s expression. Imagine, inspire, innovate!
Happy New Year to all young readers and their parents! Curly Orli and I wish you a year full of happiness and joy!
Lana Lagooncais a graphic designer, author and illustrator. At curlyorli.com, there are more free lessons, along with information about Curly Orli merchandise.
The tuna salad recipe is one of Lynn Kirsche Shapiro’s mother’s most popular recipes. (photo by Nick Ulivieri Photography)
The first section of Food, Family and Tradition: Hungarian Kosher Family Recipes and Remembrances (Cherry Press, 2013) is a family album, which Lynn Kirsche Shapiro says is her way of completing two unfinished legacies: “my mother’s recipes and my father’s autobiography.”
Her mother went blind at age 75 and Shapiro viewed the project of compiling her recipes as a tangible tribute to her mother’s contribution to the lives of her family and others. Her father was in the process of writing his life story when he died at the age of 81.
“After beginning the book, I understood that my family’s recipes and history were part of a larger world: the traditional Jewish life in Czechoslovakia and Hungary before the Holocaust,” Shapiro writes. “Many books have been written to educate others, to bear witness to the events and atrocities of the Holocaust. My book also attempts to get the picture of the richness of Jewish life in Eastern Europe prior to the Holocaust. Strong family traditions were the bedrock on which our parents, and so many of the Holocaust survivors, were raised. It is because of this strong family bond, deep tradition and unwavering faith that our parents were able to live again, to build a family and to contribute to the future.”
Shapiro’s father, Sandor Kirsche (Shalom Kirschenbaum) was born in a village in Carpathian Czechoslovakia. His family ran a small grocery store in their home. Barely surviving Buchenwald, he returned to his hometown of Hlyuboka, where he found his remaining two sisters who, along with Sandor and an aunt and uncle, were the only five remaining from 38 family members. A ship he had planned to take to Palestine was canceled and he soon after met Margit Weisz. They married in 1947 and moved to Chicago. There, Sandor worked in retail foods and, in 1973, opened an all-kosher supermarket that thrives today.
Margit was born in Gergely, Hungary. In 1944, on the last day of Passover, word came that the Nazis were to evacuate the Jews the next day. Her family hired non-Jews to drive them in wagons away in the night, but they were caught. They were sent first to a ghetto and then most of the family was killed in Auschwitz. Shapiro’s mother was sent to a subcamp of Buchenwald, where she worked with 250 other women preparing wooden crates and making ammunition. After liberation, she discovered that a brother had survived, alone among their large family. Meeting Sandor shortly after liberation, the family story takes an uplifting turn as their American dream becomes real.
The recipes in the book are not really innovative. Many of them, like the ones included here, which have been proven in one of the Jewish Independent “test kitchens,” are superb in part because of their simplicity. While East European cuisine generally, and its Jewish form specifically, certainly have dishes that are set apart from others as emblematic of major celebrations, they emphatically avoid fancy-schmancy trends so common today. This is probably why recipes like these last generations.
The book, in fact, has a litany of the classics of Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine: chopped chicken liver, gefilte fish, chopped herring, stuffed cabbage, borscht, potato soup, chicken soup, of course, blintzes, kugel, boiled fish, schmaltz, cholent, goulash, brisket, tzimmes, beet salad, latkes, kasha, and a litany of baking from challah to dumplings and honey cake.
While these recipes are fitting for the High Holidays, you might want to put them aside (the ones with oil, at least) for Chanukah as well.
SWEET AND SOUR CABBAGE SOUP WITH MEAT Traditional Hungarians cooked cabbage in a variety of ways. Here is a rich and tasty sweet and sour cabbage soup, with the deep flavor of meat. I like to cook it for a few hours to develop a flavor. For a sweeter taste, add raisins. I always do.
1 to 2 tbsp vegetable oil 1 1/2 to 2 lbs short ribs, cut into large chunks 1 medium onion, diced 1 medium head cabbage, cored, cut into small squares or shredded 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes quartered or one (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes 1 cup tomato sauce 1/2 tbsp lemon juice 1/3 cup sugar 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper 1 tsp salt 1/3 cup dark or golden raisins, optional
In an eight-quart pot over medium-high heat, heat oil. Brown short ribs with onions, turning so ribs brown on all sides. Decrease heat to low, cover tightly and steam until meat is tender, about 30 minutes to one hour.
Add the cabbage, the tomatoes together with their juice, and the remainder of ingredients to the meat, including raisins if using. Add six cups of water. Bring to a boil, decrease heat to low and simmer, covered, until the cabbage and the meat are both tender, about one hour. Taste and adjust seasonings. For a richer flavor, cook an additional 30 minutes to one hour.
Serve ladled into heated bowls. Makes eight to 10 (eight-ounce) servings.
TUNA SALAD This tuna salad is one of my mother’s most popular recipes, and we have been told that nobody’s tuna salad is as tasty. It is simple but it has its secrets. One is the grated egg; another is the oil-packed tuna. You can substitute water-packed tuna if you want a lighter salad, but the depth of flavor will not be quite the same.
1 (12-ounce) can or 2 (5-ounce) cans oil packed tuna, well-drained 3 hard-boiled eggs, shelled 1/4 cup minced onion 1 stalk celery, very finely chopped 1/3 to 1/2 cup mayonnaise
Place tuna in a medium bowl and mash with a fork. Grate the egg and add to the tuna, stirring to mix. Add the onion and celery, and mix well with the mayonnaise. Cover and refrigerate for up to three days. Makes four servings.
CHICKEN SCHNITZEL Schnitzel is authentically European, whether veal or chicken. My mother’s chicken schnitzel is special. She debones her own white meat from the chicken, then slices it thin and pounds it to about 1/4-inch uniform thickness. Also, she uses fresh breadcrumbs for the breading. Pounding the chicken breasts uniformly thin allows them to cook faster and more evenly. For added flavor, I often mix breadcrumbs with cornflake crumbs, half and half.
6 to 8 boneless skinless chicken breast halves, about 2 pounds 1 cup flour 1 tsp seasoned salt 1/2 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika 1/4 tsp garlic powder 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper 2 eggs, beaten, mixed with 1 tbsp water 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs, or 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs and 1/2 cup cornflake crumbs vegetable oil for frying, as needed
Slice each chicken breast in half horizontally. Cover each piece with plastic wrap. Using a meat mallet or rolling pin, pound chicken breasts to an even thickness of 1/4 inch. Some tears are OK; even thickness is the most important step.
Place flour and seasonings in one shallow bowl; stir to mix. Place egg and crumbs into additional separate shallow bowls.
Dip each chicken piece first in flour, then egg and then the crumb mixture. Transfer to a tray or plate and repeat until all chicken is breaded.
In a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil as needed. Fry schnitzel on each side, in batches, turning once, until golden brown and cooked through, about five minutes for each side.
Serve immediately or transfer to a parchment-lined baking pan and keep warm in a 250°F oven. Serve on individual plates with vegetables and potatoes or rice of choice. Makes eight servings.
FRIED CAULIFLOWER This is crispy and best prepared in a deep fryer. For a lighter, healthier choice, oven bake it on a cookie sheet.
oil, as needed, for deep frying 1 cup bread crumbs, preferably from challah, or 1 cup cornflake crumbs [the Independent used Panko, with great results] 1/4 tsp salt 1/4 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika 1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper 1 cup flour 2 eggs, beaten 1 large head cauliflower, separated into florets
If frying, preheat the oil to 350°F in a deep fryer or deep pot. Season breadcrumbs or cornflake crumbs with the salt, paprika and pepper.
In three separate shallow dishes, place flour, eggs and crumbs.
Dip the cauliflower florets first in the flour, next the eggs, and then the breadcrumbs. Fry in batches in the deep fryer, drain on paper towels.
Alternatively, preheat oven to 400°F. Place breaded cauliflower florets on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet sprayed with nonstick cooking spray, and bake until crisp and brown, about 20 minutes, turning the pan once in oven.
Makes eight servings.
CUCUMBER SALAD, UKORKASALATA
Cucumbers were readily available in Hungary and Czechoslovakia from spring through summer, making ukorkasaláta a classic salad during the season, light and refreshing, perfect for a summer meal. My husband, Irv, likes to serve it as an accompaniment to grilled steak; it balances the richness of the beef. The vinegar and the salt are preservatives, allowing the salad to keep, refrigerated, for a week. Of course, as my mother says, “At home, we never worried about the refrigeration because it never lasted too long – it was all eaten up quickly.” It is best prepared in advance, so the cucumbers have a slightly pickled flavored.
2 large seedless cucumbers (about 1 1/2 pounds), skin on, sliced paper thin one medium onion, sliced paper thin 1 heaping tbsp salt 1/3 cup water 1/3 cup sugar 1/3 cup white vinegar
Place the cucumbers and the onions in a medium bowl and toss with the salt. Let stand for one hour. Transfer to a colander and drain. Place plastic wrap on top and press down to extract the maximum liquid. Transfer drained cucumber onion mixture to a nonreactive bowl. Reserve.
In a small bowl, place water, sugar and vinegar, and whisk to dissolve sugar. Pour this marinade over the cucumber and onions. Cover and refrigerate, for up to one week.
From Sybil Kaplan: A couple of years ago, I discovered clafouti, the French dessert of fruit, covered with a batter, baked and served warm. What I loved most was that it was good year around, it could be made pareve and it looked elegant.
MASTER CLAFOUTI Works for peaches, plums, nectarines, cherries, pumpkin, pears, apples. Makes six to eight servings.
1 cup non-dairy creamer or pareve whipping cream (with/without sugar) 1/3 cup sugar (or substitute) 4 large eggs 1 tbsp vanilla 1/2 cup flour
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a baking dish or deep glass pie plate. Place non-dairy creamer, sugar, eggs, vanilla and flour in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Place fruit overlapping in bottom of baking dish. Pour batter on top. Bake 30-40 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
APPLE CLAFOUTI 6 apples 1 cup non-dairy creamer or pareve whipping cream 1 tbsp brandy 1/4 cup raisins 4 eggs 1 tbsp vanilla 1/2 cup flour
Follow directions for master clafouti. Makes six servings.
CLAFOUTI WITH PEACHES 6 large sliced peaches 2 1/4 cups non-dairy creamer or whipping cream 3 eggs 3 egg yolks 1 1/2 tsp vanilla 6 tbsp sugar cinnamon
Grease baking dish. Preheat oven to 350°F. Place peach slices in baking dish. Whisk together non-dairy creamer, eggs, egg yolks, vanilla, sugar. Pour over peaches. Sprinkle on cinnamon. Bake 30-40 minutes until knife inserted in centre comes out clean. Makes six servings.
From Esther Tauby: This is a Rosh Hashanah cake that my Aunt Rose made up and my mother always makes for the holidays – as do I. Enjoy!
PLUM CAKE 2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar 1/2 cup oil 3 eggs 2 tsp baking powder 1/2 cup water 1 tsp vanilla 6-8 prune plums pinch of salt
Cream oil and sugar. Add eggs, beat well. Add flour, baking powder, salt, then vanilla. Use Pam or cover nine-by-13 cake pan with foil or parchment. Pour in half the batter. Cut plums in half lengthwise, place face down in batter. Cover with rest of batter. Bake at 325°F until golden brown, about 30 minutes.
During a festival when people try and increase their “blessings,” adding many different wines provides the opportunity to keep proclaiming HaTov v’HaMeitiv. (photo courtesy of Yarden Inc.)
The Rosh Hashanah meal is a festive affair. Traditions abound as to how the evening meal can bring good tidings for the year ahead. While some stick to apple and honey for a sweet new year, others recite a full array of blessings over various symbolic foods; from increasing in numbers like the seeds of a pomegranate to hopes of being the head not the tail, akin to the lamb’s or fish head that adorns some tables.
When reflecting on wishes for the upcoming season, one Rosh Hashanah tradition that continues throughout the year is that of the HaTov v’HaMeitiv blessing, recited when switching from one style of wine to another. In addition to its centrality for sacramental purposes, in ancient Israel, wine was cleaner and tastier than drinking water and it continues to be a focal element of Jewish culture. The custom is to celebrate the abundance of this joyful beverage, which symbolizes wealth, happiness and success. Given wine’s special power to “gladden the heart” and the uniqueness of each varietal, the sages instituted the special blessing. As opposed to regular blessings which, once recited, “cover” all similar food types, adding the HaTov v’HaMeitiv blessing maintained an awareness of the risks of mindless intoxication and proclaimed gratitude for the abundance of this most-sought-after beverage.
The sages were very clear that drinking alone could lead to sin or impropriety and that only when one is in the company of others could true joy be experienced, thus the blessing is said when two or more are present.
This blessing praising “He who is good and bestows good” is most commonly recited when switching between a white and a red wine, but it can be said when partaking in a wine of a different varietal, quality or style. It is said only when the second (or third, fourth or fifth) wine is of equal or better quality and when the wine is being drunk in company. The sages were very clear that drinking alone could lead to sin or impropriety and that only when one is in the company of others could true joy be experienced, thus the blessing is said when two or more are present.
Celebrating the good and enjoying superior-quality wines are wonderful ways to enhance the Rosh Hashanah table and raise the spirits of all the celebrants. During a festival, when people try and increase their “blessings,” adding many different wines provides the opportunity to keep proclaiming HaTov v’HaMeitiv. In time for the festive season, there are a number of high-quality Israeli wines that are hitting the shelves, yielding the chance to keep blessing good (and better) offerings.
From white to red
The Galil Viognier is a pleasant change from the more traditional white grape varieties. The Viognier is a challenging wine to perfect, but the Galil Mountain Winery, on the border of northern Israel, produces a flawlessly dry, yet extremely fruity and floral offering. Move from this more unusual white to an ever-loved red, the Gilgal Cabernet Sauvignon. Produced by the Golan Heights Winery, this classic red wine is a treat for any cabernet fan. Full-bodied and with an exquisite finish, the Gilgal Cabernet Sauvignon exhibits blackcurrant and cherry notes rounded out by earthy, spicy and oaky characters. While it is eminently drinkable upon purchase, recently wine experts in Israel have been opening decade-old bottles and have been surprised by its aging potential.
Novel blends, from fruity to complex
The Mount Hermon Indigo, named for its signature indigo color provided by a blend of syrah and cabernet sauvignon grapes, set new standards for affordable kosher wine when it was released last year. Now in its second vintage, it is a medium-bodied, fruity wine combining a deep plum flavor with hints of herb and a subtle smokiness. Move from the Mount Hermon Indigo to the Yarden 2T for a richer and fuller-bodied blended red wine. The Yarden 2T, like the Mount Hermon Indigo, shows off plum and cherry characters but this blend of two Portuguese grapes has been aged for 18 months in French oak barrels. The lengthy aging period enables the wine’s deep flavors to flourish and produces a richer, blackberry flavor coupled with Mediterranean spice and deep chocolate notes. The Yarden 2T stole the show this year at the Citadelles du Vin, France’s biggest wine awards, and raises the bar when looking for wine to top that which has been previously tasted.
Whites, from young to aged
Moving from a fresh wine to a richer and aged wine normally implies moving from a white to a red wine but it is possible to do the switch with two white wines. The Gilgal Riesling resembles the traditional rieslings emanating from Alsace and German regions. The Gilgal Riesling showcases the riesling’s familiar high acidity balanced with tropical and fruity aromas. It is a young and easy to drink wine, which underwent a short, cold fermentation and makes a great accompaniment to the first course of the Rosh Hashanah meal. Move from this easy-to-drink white to a richer, barrel-aged chardonnay such as the Yarden Odem Chardonnay. Produced entirely from grapes grown in the Odem organic vineyard on the slopes of the Golan Heights, this delicious, aged chardonnay combines a melt-in-your-mouth buttery flavor with aromatic pear, quince, apple and tropical notes. The Yarden Odem Chardonnay is aged sur lies for seven months in French oak barrels, giving it a rich and full body and one that will improve for a number of years to come.
When saying HaTov v’HaMeitiv, it is preferable to have the previous wine still open and remaining. This Rosh Hashanah, keep the wine flowing all evening and toast a l’chaim to a “good and better” year ahead.
Anna Harwoodis a writer and clinical psychology student at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. She made aliyah from England at the end of 2010 and has been living in Jerusalem ever since.
The key to understanding the confusing global landscape of the 21st century is to recognize that there is nothing normal or logical about it. If you’re confused by current events and concerned with the recent surge of antisemitism and the war with terrorists in Gaza, you may think that you have lost touch with reality – or maybe it’s the rest of the world that’s gone mad. Scanning the news, it sometimes seems as if the world now supports the bad guys over the good. However, if you look closely, you can see the Divine hand at work, the work of Divine providence and intervention. Why would G-d intervene in this way? Would G-d ever cause there to be irrational support for evil in the world?
The answer to this critical question is that the Almighty seeks to maintain a balance of power in the world at all times. It is often difficult to appreciate the significance of events as they unfold. When we look at a majestic tapestry, we can admire the work of the weaver, but we cannot see the back of the tapestry, with all its loose threads and knots, nor can we see the hard work that the weaver put into it or the amount of time it took them to weave such a masterpiece. In this way, the hand of G-d majestically weaves a wondrous and deliberate pattern on the tapestry of Jewish history. In order for humanity to have free choice, however, there must be a balance of good and evil in the world. In fact, in the most mindboggling illogical world events lies the deepest Divine providence and order; the chaos provides the perfect backdrop and balance for free choice and its maximum impact.
G-d’s plan is nothing short of incredible. In recent history, He has returned millions of Jews to their homeland, even though we are surrounded by tens of millions of hostile neighbors. Just this summer, terrorists in Gaza fired about 4,000 missiles at Israel. There were just a few fatalities.
My parents (may they live to 120) who live in Netanya heard a few rockets over the summer, and were so grateful when they found out that those missiles drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in the middle of the night. My sister who lives in Kfar Chabad, 10 kilometres from Ben-Gurion Airport, told me that she woke up one day to find a commercial Swiss Air jet and a huge Air Canada plane rerouted to a field just two kilometres away from her home. The airport had been closed to international flights. Watching with her grandchildren, she described how the aircraft were taking off and landing half a block from her house. My nephew was a tank commander in Gaza and, thank G-d, he came home safely.
Given everything, it was miraculous that there were few Israeli fatalities. Nonetheless, most of us here in Canada felt helpless. However, Israel saw supporters gather in cities around the world. Here in Vancouver we had two rallies in just one day in late July to show our love for Israel and our gratitude to the soldiers of the IDF. In fact, the afternoon rally at Vancouver Art Gallery felt like a miracle in itself. Seeing my own sons with the Israeli flags draped round them and seeing them singing, dancing and being with community members from the Lower Mainland filled my and my husband’s heart with nachat. Holding up our posters and flags to cars driving by on Georgia, our hearts swelled with joy and pride. The sign I made and carried, the straw hat I wore with an Israeli flag through it, gathering with Jews and non-Jews in support of our homeland, I felt a true sense of unity.
What is our role in G-d’s plan for the world? How can we believe in G-d when there are so many things going on that we abhor? What can we do about it all?
Our role in this world is actually a mission that G-d gave all Jewish people. It is to join together in unity to create a peaceful and harmonious world. Some call this tikkun olam. If we’re worried about what’s happening in Israel, we can review some of the many thousands of miracles that G-d has made for us. In fact, we don’t need to worry, because G-d is in control, as we have seen so many times over these recent months. G-d has given each of us what we need to be able to fulfil our jobs in this world. We are called, “a light among the nations.” This means that we need to try to model ourselves as bright lights. How do we do that?
One way to do this is to teach by example. By making ourselves the best we can be and by helping our friends and families, as well. True, we can only have influence over those close to us, but we can engage them in doing mitzvot, for example, praying to G-d and saying psalms every day, including chapters 20, 130, 142, which are particularly relevant for our soldiers in Israel. Any mitzvah that we can do, big or small, can turn over any difficult times we may have. Doing mitzvot is the way we teach those around us to not feel helpless. On the contrary, we do mitzvot to feel special and important in G-d’s eyes.
Whether it be visiting someone who isn’t well, putting some coins in a tzedakah box, calling someone who may live alone and would appreciate a call, shopping with people who may be new to town and aren’t familiar with our city yet, the list is endless. That way, we are doing something instead of feeling helpless to change the situation.
Whether it be visiting someone who isn’t well, putting some coins in a tzedakah box, calling someone who may live alone and would appreciate a call, shopping with people who may be new to town and aren’t familiar with our city yet, the list is endless. That way, we are doing something instead of feeling helpless to change the situation. That is how we find our belief in G-d increasing and we can sleep at night knowing that G-d is the one watching over us and His whole universe that He created. Doing mitzvot also guarantees that we will retain our own goodness and not, G-d forbid, fall into wanting to take revenge on Israel’s enemies.
When we celebrate Rosh Hashanah this year, we can also ask G-d to give us the faith that we may feel we have misplaced. It is a wonderful time of year as we go to synagogue to pray to G-d for ourselves, family, community, and to feel connected to G-d who loves us so much, as a parent loves an only child. When we wish each other “Shana tova u’metukah,” we are offering everyone we speak to a wonderful, sweet New Year with all their wishes coming true for them. Our blessings to each other are precious and we get many mitzvot for offering them. Then our faith will shine through us as we make the world a better place. Our hearts will be filled with joy when we hear the 100 blasts of the shofar each day of Rosh Hashanah, as we know we are asking G-d to grant us a year filled with health, happiness and only good for us and all our sisters and brothers around the world. What a wonderful feeling that is.
Shana tova u’metuka, have a wonderful, sweet year beginning with an apple dipped in honey, and then enjoy everything sweet in your life this special year of 5775. Celebrate in your special way with family and friends. May G-d give you the strength you may need this year to accept your gifts from G-d in an open way.
Esther Taubyis a local educator, counselor and writer.
According to Jewish law, every seven years, agricultural fields are to lie fallow during the Shmita, or Sabbatical. (photo from commons.wikimedia.org)
This Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the year 5755, a year that has a special significance, as a Shmita, or Sabbatical year, a year of rest for the soil.
Shmita literally means renunciation or release. We renounce the right to work the land, and let it lie fallow in the seventh year. In Leviticus 25:4, it says, “The seventh year shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath unto the Lord, thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard.” It is also a year in which we renounce our right to collect debts. “At the end of every seven years, thou shalt make a release. And this is the manner of the release: every creditor shall release that which he lent unto his neighbor.” (Deuteronomy 15:1-2)
Although the laws of the sabbatical remittance of debts apply to Jews everywhere, the obligation to let the land lie fallow is limited to the boundaries of Israel, as these laws begin only “… when ye come into the Land which I shall give you.…” (Leviticus 25:2) After wandering the desert for 40 years, Moses gathered the Israelites at the foot of Mt. Sinai, and gave them a detailed law about the soil. As soon as they entered Eretz Israel, they were to become people of the land, with their lives bound up in agriculture.
For centuries, as the Jews in the Diaspora became largely non-agricultural, the law of Shmita became a theoretical problem to be discussed by talmudic scholars. However, with the establishment of the state of Israel, Shmita again became a practical problem for the pioneers and early settlers.
Until the system of crop rotation was devised at the beginning of the 20th century, both Jews and non-Jews saw the logic of letting the land periodically rest. For Jews, these agricultural cycles were detailed in the Torah. For centuries, as the Jews in the Diaspora became largely non-agricultural, the law of Shmita became a theoretical problem to be discussed by talmudic scholars. However, with the establishment of the state of Israel, Shmita again became a practical problem for the pioneers and early settlers.
There are many reasons for the Shmita year. It teaches human beings that the earth does not belong to them, but to G-d. It also teaches people to have confidence in
G-d; even though we are asked to let the land rest, the Lord will invoke a blessing for us. Letting the land lie fallow is useful for another reason, too: every seven years, freed from the preoccupation of working the land, we are freed to study Torah full time.
Apparently, even Julius Caesar exempted the Jews from taxation in the Shmita year, since they did not have any livelihood from their fields. After the Bar Kochba revolt, however, the Jews were again compelled to pay taxes, causing grave hardship, which in turn convinced the rabbis to relax many prohibitions.
During the Second Temple period, the Jews rigidly adhered to Shmita in Eretz Israel. During the Hasmonean War, the fall of Bet Zur was attributed to a famine in the city since it was a Sabbatical year. Apparently, even Julius Caesar exempted the Jews from taxation in the Shmita year, since they did not have any livelihood from their fields. After the Bar Kochba revolt, however, the Jews were again compelled to pay taxes, causing grave hardship, which in turn convinced the rabbis to relax many prohibitions.
In the days of early modem statehood, Shmita was problematic in Israel, when its unbearably heavy economic load became too much for the young state to bear. Learned rabbis, like the late Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, agreed to the use of a heter (special dispensation) to sell the land to non-Jews during the Sabbatical year, to permit the land to be worked.
In recent years, there have also been developed other methods of using a heter for Shmita, such as early sowing of vegetables before the New Year (relying on the view of Rabbi Shimon of Sens, for example) and the growing of crops by hydroponics or soil-less systems. The Israeli botanist Meir Schwartz founded the first fully automatic hydroponic farm at the Agudat Israel Kibbutz Chafetz Chaim, but there are now other hydroponic farms at Ein Gedi and Eilat, which use water culture and gravel in agricultural production.
How does the Shmita year affect Orthodox Israeli consumers? Throughout the year, in local newspapers, there are regularly published lists of shops from whom it is permissible to buy fruit and vegetables in the Sabbatical year; there are also chains of shops that market Arab Israeli-farmed or imported produce. Many Orthodox Jews buy their fruit and vegetables in the Arab market in East Jerusalem, for example, or travel to Arab cities to shop.
It is not easy in Israel to observe the Shmita year, however. Although different dispensations have been made in recent years to make it less difficult, they are considered “emergency measures,” as implied by Kook in the introduction to his work on the Shmita, Shabbat Haaretz, in which he wrote: “We today are charged with preserving the memory of the commandment until the time is ripe for it to be carried out with all its minutiae.”
Imagine, every single one of them up to Mr. Big himself takes bribes. Don’t be shocked now – he accepts them too, if he gets an offer. What’s that? You don’t believe me? You’re all laughing, eh? Well, have fun…. Ready now? Now gather ’round me, brother Jews, and listen to a story that happened to my grandfather, may he rest in peace, during the good old days when Czar Nich was boss. Why’re you nudging me? What’re you scared of? You think these peasants sitting here know what we’re jabbering about? They won’t understand a word, blast them. I won’t be obvious and, where necessary, I’ll throw in some Hebrew. Just pay close attention and don’t interrupt me.
This happened during the reign of our present Mr. Big’s grandfather, after whom he’s named. Our fathers and grandfathers couldn’t forget that old Mr. Big for all the fine and dandy things he let loose against us. In short, their whole life hung on a thread. We existed just by the grace of little Mr. Big, or Buttons, as we called him, who ruled every shtetl. This Buttons liked to have his palms greased, and loved gefilte fish and whiskey. So long as this went on, the Jews breathed free and easy.
Then our Buttons kicked the bucket and was followed by a new Buttons, a Haman, a rat. He just couldn’t be greased! Not even with big money. He wouldn’t go for gefilte fish. He didn’t drink. He was as clean as a whistle! He gave summonses and fines. Didn’t let Jews do business or let Jewish teachers teach. If he saw a young woman, he’d rip off her marriage wig; a young man, he’d snip off an earlock.
“That’s what Mr. Big does, too,” he used to say. This made the Jews seethe with anger. After pondering how to get rid of such a Haman, the devil take him, they went to my grandfather. “Reb Anshel, save the town! Tell us what to do.”
My grandfather listened and said he would go and see his rebbe. “We’ll do whatever he suggests.” Grandfather Anshel then got into his carriage one hot summer day and told the rebbe the whole story. “It’s horrible. We have a man whose hands are clean.”
A minute later, the rebbe called out: “May you be inscribed for a year of health.” This astounded my grandfather. It was summer and Rosh Hashanah was a long way off.
“Listen, Anshel. Tell your shtetl I’ve wished them a good year. When the big fair comes, buy a pair of horses. The best money can buy. Full-blooded roans, completely spotless. Then hitch them to a fine carriage and drive them to that city where Mr. Big makes his home. It starts with the letter P. Drive around the palace, like a lord who’s out for a pleasure ride. If anyone asks you to buy them, say you’re not a horse-dealer…. Now, Anshel,” the rebbe concluded, “go home and may God grant you success.”
When the big fair came, my grandfather bought a pair of spotless full-blooded roans from a gypsy, who asked for a fortune. But this was a matter of life and death. The town had to be saved. The Jews had pawned everything they had. My grandfather bought the horses, hitched them to a carriage and left immediately. He and the horses arrived in P about a month before Rosh Hashanah.
To make a long story short, as he drove around the palace one day, he saw the Buttons approaching. He stopped my grandfather and inspected the horses from all angles, like one who understood horseflesh.
“Listen here, you, how much do you want for these horses?”
Exactly what the rebbe said would happen. Reb Anshel’s heart leaped a bit, and he answered as he was commanded, “I’m not a horse-dealer.”
The Buttons looked angrily at him. “How do you come to such fine horses?”
This time, grandfather was quiet. He didn’t know what to say, because the rebbe hadn’t mentioned a question of that sort.
Infuriated now, the Buttons said, “Perhaps you’ve stolen them, huh?”
At this, grandfather’s heart sank; he couldn’t say a word. Finally, God inspired him with: “Sir! These horses are mine. I bought them from a gypsy at a fair. I have witnesses. A whole town full of Jews.”
“So you have witnesses, huh?” the Buttons said. “I know your sort of witnesses…. You know, the Czar likes your horses.”
“What’s the drawback?” said grandfather. “If he likes the horses, then my horses can be his horses.”
Don’t ask how Reb Anshel hit upon an idea like that. If it’s fated, God gives you bright ideas. Well, they took the horses’ reins, and led them right into the courtyard and showed them to Mr. Big himself. As soon as he saw the horses, he couldn’t leave them. Some sort of mystic power was in those animals. He fell in love with them at first sight and showed them off to his entire court.
Meanwhile, Grandfather Anshel was watching silently. He recognized Mr. Big immediately from his pictures. But it didn’t faze him at all. He was just a man, like the rest of them. Then Mr. Big approached grandfather. And, as soon as he looked at grandfather, a chill ran through his bones. And, when he spoke with his lion’s voice, grandfather’s heart froze.
“How much do you want for those horses?” Mr. Big asked Anshel.
Grandfather could hardly speak. His mouth was dry, and he felt his voice shaking: “I don’t sell horses. But if His Majesty has taken a liking to the horses, let the horses be led into His Majesty’s stables. That’s where they belong.”
When Mr. Big moved closer to Reb Anshel and continued talking to him, my grandfather practically turned into a heap of bones.
“Listen here. Perhaps you want some special favor. If you do, tell me right now with no bluffs, tricks, flim-flam, or long-winded Jewish commentary. For if you do, it’ll cost you dearly.”
Well, my dear friends, what went through Grandfather Anshel’s mind at that time? But, since Reb Anshel was a brave man, he plucked up his courage and told Mr. Big:
“Your Majesty! King! I swear I’m not the sort who likes to bluff or trick anyone. I don’t ask a thing of His Majesty. But I would consider it an honor if I could be worthy of having my horses in His Majesty’s stables and if His Majesty would ride them.”
Naturally, Mr. Big was moved by these words. Now, he spoke softly. His manner changed. He was a new man. Then the Czar left the courtyard and headed for the palace – with grandfather Anshel trailing behind him. It didn’t faze him a bit, but his knees shook and his heart ticked like a grandfather clock. Can you imagine – being in the Czar’s palace! Wherever you looked, only silver and gold.
Then Mr. Big sat down and asked grandfather to have a seat too. He offered grandfather a cigar. In the meantime, she came in – the Czarina herself, draped in satin and silk and covered with diamonds. She was as beautiful as the Queen of Sheba. Seeing a Jew in the king’s company, comfortable and smoking a cigar, she naturally became very angry and looked very sternly at him, as if to say: What’s this Jew doing here?
But, by now, Grandfather Anshel had become high and mighty. He continued smoking and didn’t even glance at her. But she kept looking daggers his way, which Mr. Big ignored.
“Dushinka, how about some tea?” he told the Czarina cheerfully.
She remained silent.
The Czar repeated: “Dushinka. Tea!”
Again, she remained silent.
Now the Czar didn’t delay, but stamped his foot and roared at the top of his voice: “Dushinka! Tea!”
The window panes shook. It was nothing to sneeze at. Treason, you know…. In a flash, a boiling samovar and boiled eggs were ordered, for the Czar knew that a pious Jew would not touch anything but boiled eggs. The Czar asked him to eat and drink and make himself at home. By and by, he asked grandfather in friendly fashion how he earned his living, and how the Jews of his region were doing. At this, Grandfather thought: Now’s the time to bring up the subject. Well, he told Mr. Big everything – and Reb Anshel had just the tongue for it.
“Here’s the whole story, Your Majesty. Your Jews have no complaints. But if His Majesty is in a good mood, I shall tell you the whole truth. The Jews live by grace of the Buttons. If he’s just a regular Buttons, it’s fine and dandy. But if, God forbid, he isn’t, then there’s trouble. Not long ago, a new Buttons came into our shtetl – clean as a whistle! And because of that, we’re at the end of our rope! There’s no one like him in Your Majesty’s entire realm. That a Buttons be incorruptible is something unheard of. It’s the 11th plague!”
Mr. Big looked at him and said: “I haven’t got the faintest notion what you’re talking about. What do you mean by ‘clean as a whistle?’ And what do you mean by a ‘Buttons’?”
“Because, just as Jews know they must pray every morning, they also know that an official must take and a Jew must give. Like in our holy books. We always kept giving – for sacrifices, for the Temple, here, there.”
“By clean as a whistle,” Grandfather said, “I mean a man whose palms won’t be greased. By Buttons, I mean a little Mr. Big whom you appoint to watch over every little town. Well, Buttons watches those towns and in a few years becomes very rich. Who from? The Jews, of course. They’ve gotten used to it. Because, just as Jews know they must pray every morning, they also know that an official must take and a Jew must give. Like in our holy books. We always kept giving – for sacrifices, for the Temple, here, there. You’ve been so kind to your servant until now, so please hear him out.
“I want you to know, Your Majesty, that your whole kingdom, from east to west, from north to south, is filled with takers. The only ones whose palms you can’t grease are cripples who have no hands. And even someone with no hands will tell you to slap it down on the table. There’s nothing wrong with that either. You have to live and let live. The Bible tells us to get along with our neighbor. So our commentator, Rashi, says – but if his dog barks, muzzle him.”
Why are you men looking at me? Strange, right, that a Jew should talk this way to a king? Well, take it or leave it. I wasn’t there – that any child will understand. But this is the story that my father – may he rest in peace, heard from his father. And I assure you that neither my father nor my grandfather Anshel were liars.
After that, my grandfather said goodbye to the Czar and went straight to the rebbe, reporting back on his trip.
Now listen to this. On Rosh Hashanah night, when the Jews were leaving the synagogues and wishing each other gut yontef, a year of peace and good health – a rumor flashed through town that our Buttons, our Haman, may he shrivel up, had been fired, and in his place the authorities up-on-high had sent a new little Mr. Big, a man clever and wise, good and kind – in short, a jewel of a gentile, a regular Buttons. He took. He was a taker! But he had one flaw. He had a mighty dry palm. It had to be greased good and heavy.
But the upshot was that the Jews had a happy Rosh Hashanah and an even happier Sukkot. Don’t even ask about Simchas Torah! Even the new Buttons himself had a few drops and danced with the Jews. Be well and have a happy new year.
Curt Leviantis the author of seven critically acclaimed novels. His latest book is Zix Zexy Ztories.