It is that time of year again… dipping… But this time it is not parsley in salt water or our pinky finger in wine. Get out the dvash! This time of year, we dip in honey.
Dvash actually refers more to the sweetness of any fruit. So, unlike the orange blossom honey we Californians may be accustomed to, there is an entire uncharted world of honey out there! A favorite in Israel is silan; not only is silan great for dipping apples and challah, it makes one of the best marinades for chicken or a replacement for regular honey in the honey cake. Go to Tuscany, Italy, and you will find raspberry honey, strawberry honey, and my favorite, blackberry honey. For those of you who can’t make it to Tuscany, check out your local Farmer’s Market. Change up the Yom Tov table with some extraordinary honey.
Why the “round” challah? Eating a round challah at Rosh Hashanah reminds us of the continuity of creation. And all those raisin challahs? Raisins are sweet! Dipping the challah and apples and making a blessing on the first night expresses our hope for a sweet new year. The roundness is also symbolic of fertility, a continuous cycle, no end and no beginning—a reminder of the frailty but immensity of life.
Some homes serve the entire fish, with the head included, as a symbol of Rosh Hashanah (literally, the head of the year). However, you will likely find the gefilte fish, which may be more aesthetically pleasing to most. Why the fish? Remember that many of the holiday symbols are representative of ancient symbols. Fish is an age-old symbol for fertility and abundance.
Each year there is always the guest who brings the honey cake from the kosher deli in Manhattan or Los Angeles to “wish you a sweet New Year.” You know the cake—it stays on the counter through Yom Kippur, and is only disposed of when it is safe to assume the same guest will not arrive asking for a piece. This is one of those foods that may be a food in symbol only! Thankfully, not all honey cakes are equal! And to wish for a sweet year does not mean the honey cake has to double for a doorstop. Often, families use recipes passed down through the generations. And, as Rosh Hashanah takes place in fall, the cake can be made with the lovely, aromatic spices of autumn: cloves, cinnamon and allspice. For the truly adventurous, add a little rum to not only moisten the cake but add to its flavor.
On the second night of Rosh Hashanah, we eat a new fruit, one that has recently come into season but that we have not yet had the opportunity to eat. Though this may be difficult in California since we can have any fruit all year round, we often use a pomegranate as the new fruit. Why the pomegranate? In the Tanach, Israel is praised for its pomegranates. It is also believed that the pomegranate contains 613 seeds: symbolic of the 613 mitzvot. And, it’s a tradition for blessing and eating pomegranate on Rosh Hashanah to ensure that our good deeds in the coming year will be as plentiful as the seeds of the pomegranate.
When we eat this new fruit, we say the shehechiyanu blessing thanking G-d for keeping us alive and bringing us to this season.
Regardless of your level of observance or family traditions, Rosh Hashanah is a time to reflect, renew and remember. The symbolism of food reminds us of the traditions that have been passed down for generations and sustain us as a religion and a nation. Add a new symbol to your table this year, let the novelty rub elbows with tradition and see what happens.
Dr. Lisa Grajewski is a psychologist working toward licensure. She is a therapist with Jewish Federation Family Services and is a psychological assistant for a private practice in Tustin. Dr. Grajewski has been writing for JLife since 2004.