SUBWAYDay to night is Rosh Hashanah, also known as Jewish New Year, and I have decided that everyone should participate. With Covid-19, climate collapse, climate collapse denial, terrorism, racism, sexism, homophobia, endless lockdowns, and a government steeped in sociopathy that makes life a collective nightmare, I invite all not Jews to put on the party hat and choose hope, cake of joy and honey tonight.
Why do we count to midnight in early September? It is not because we are bad at the moment. I mean, we spent 40 years wandering an objectively small desert, but that makes us bad wandering. No, celebrating a new year four months before January is on the calendar.
While most of the world follows the Gregorian calendar, some daring countries do their thing. Israel uses the Jewish (or Hebrew) calendar, to which the global Jewish diaspora pays attention to Torah (scripture) readings, festivals, and memorial days. In the most elementary and potentially flawed explanation, because the Jewish calendar is influenced by both the moon and the sun, while the Gregorian only by the sun, these Jewish dates fall on different Gregorian dates each year.
Although I do not practice religion in terms of religion and I am not a Zionist, I still identify with my culture and many Jewish customs still inform my life. You can get the girl out of the synagogue, and so on. So, like a lost Christian with a Christmas tree, I observe some traditions and rituals to join the family, honor the dead, or eat. Sometimes all at once.
One of these rituals is the Rosh Hashanah dinner, mainly for the food. We light candles, drink wine and pray, and then it is customary to enjoy sweet foods during a sweet year; round foods for the cyclical nature of life and the crown of Hashem (God); and sweet, round foods just in case.
Instead of the braided challah (bread) that is eaten weekly on Shabbat (Saturday), we eat round challahs, some with raisins, and dip them in honey. We also dip apples in honey. Dates and fruits of the new season prevail, especially the triple threat pomegranate for its sweetness, biblical meaning, and abundance of seeds, which represent mitzvot (good works). And no Rosh Hashana meal is complete without a honey cake.
We also eat salty foods, like couscous, carrots, brisket, and chard, but they are a bit like culinary beards, mainly for the sake of looks. Most have dates or honey anyway. Apparently, fish heads are also common (news to me), a version of the Hebrew translation of Rosh Hashanah to “head of the year”, which also symbolizes fertility and abundance.
There are also inedible Rosh Hashanah rites, mainly the sound of the shofar, a ram’s horn used as a bugle that I don’t like due to the animal cruelty and horrible sounds. It is used for the following Holy Days or Days of Dread to call people to prayer, remind them to repent, and announce the end of the fast (more on that later). The blowing of the shofar is considered an honor and a mitzvah, and is traditionally done by men because, of course, it is.
Tashlich (“cast out”) is one of my favorites of all Jewish rituals, symbolizing the casting off of sins and referring to various biblical passages. Performed next to a body of water, preferably open and with fish, but there is room for maneuver, Tashlich involves saying prayers, shaking clothes and, this part is optional, throwing bread into the water to get rid of sins. Who doesn’t want to sing, wave and throw food?
You now have the essential ingredients to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and reset your mind. The food part should be easy, but if you’re not sure, dip some of it in honey and say Shanah Tovah (“Have a nice year”) to your cat. I’m sure you can find candles and even more sure you have wine, and if you are not within legal blocking distance of an open body of water, throw your sins down a sink.
You will have a hard time finding a ram’s horn at sunset, but I just found out that you can order them on eBay so you have no excuse for next year. For tonight, just use a tape recorder or a bottle of wine or anything you can blow on to get sound. And please don’t even think about making resolutions, unless they are to do little and accomplish nothing until we get through the worst of it.
Many Jewish families spread across the world will be separated for Rosh Hashanah, some for the second year in a row. Of course, people are experiencing much greater difficulties, Covid-induced or otherwise, but the separation will be difficult for some anyway. It is possible that the Melbourne authorities want to carry out a specific check on a certain family of a certain video of the engagement party, just in case.
If after today you are still vibrating with Judaism, the Days of Awe last another 10 days, ending with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. All you have to do is reflect on your behavior and not eat for 24 hours and all your sins will be erased from your record. It is like an intermittent fast for your soul.
Whether you accept my invitation or not, at least eat cake. I recommend East, with a pinch of ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon. Wishing you and yours Shanah Tovah and the best for 5782, because we also count the years differently.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism