Today I’m keeping this short and sweet, with sweet being the important word here. You see tonight is the beginning of the Jewish New Year. All Jewish holidays go from sunset to sunset. I don’t know how much you know about the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, so I’ll fill you in just a teensy bit. Rosh Hashanah translates to “head of the year”. It is believed to be the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve and the completion of the creation of the world. “Rosh Hashanah thus emphasizes the special relationship between G‑d and humanity: our dependence upon G‑d as our creator and sustainer, and G‑d’s dependence upon us as the ones who make His presence known and felt in His world.” (from Chabad.org)
On Rosh Hashanah, the book of judgement is opened and it is in that book that a decree of judgment is given. The prayer goes a bit like this. “Who shall live and who shall die, Who shall be impoverished and who shall be enriched, who shall fall and who should rise…and so on and so on. On Yom Kippur, (celebrated ten days after the new year and also called the Day of Atonement) the book is closed, though we have until Sukkot for one last chance. It is in these ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur that we must make good or ask for forgiveness for anything we may have done that was hurtful or wrong in this past year and try to ensure our good fate for the future. We also symbolically “cast our sins” into a rushing body of water and say prayers accordingly.
During the Rosh Hashanah service we also blow the shofar. If you’ve ever tried blowing a shofar…well, it is not easy. And we hear 100 blasts over the two days of the new year. The shofar is a sound that awakens us and calls us to repent over what may have gone wrong over this last year.
For me this is a cleansing holiday. It is a time for reflection and new beginnings. It’s a time to look back over the year behind us and reflect on how we could do better in the coming year. For more years than not we have had the pleasure of celebrating Rosh Hashanah in the mountains at our temple’s summer camp. The service is small and full of the sounds of music and children and usually dogs. We celebrate in our jeans at over 10,000 feet, while the aspens turn golden around us, the pines rise above us, and the stream rushes before us. When the weather is good, it is truly glorious and when the weather is bad, it is pretty glorious too. There is nothing that says “God” more to me than Mother Nature. And looking at our deck, well, Fall is certainly here!
Though I usually welcome the new year with happiness, and gratefulness that we made it through another year intact, this year I am feeling a bit bittersweet. Alex is celebrating in Shanghai at a Chabad House, Zoe is in Philly and Manservant is in Stockholm at a synagogue there. I miss my family, and holidays are meant for family. I know we will be with each other in spirit, but it just isn’t the same without them.
Just as a Jewish holiday isn’t complete without family, it most certainly wouldn’t be complete without food. Traditional foods for Rosh Hashanah includes food made with honey. Honey symbolizes something sweet for a sweet new year. I made a great honey cake this year and some honey halvah stuffed baked apples. I also made a salted honey rose tart that was so good last year, that I made it again this year. Our challah bread is shaped in a circle to symbolize the fact that life is a circle. It never stops.
I’m giving you this recipe for baked apples. We had so many in our yard this year that I know the coming year will be great, judging by the abundance of apples. My freezer is overflowing with goodness in the form of applesauce! My mother often baked “Weight Watcher” apples on one of our numerous diets growing up. I remember she used diet black cherry soda in them. They were good, but these are better. Filled with halvah, a confection made from sesame seeds; it is oh so popular in Israel. It comes in every flavor and is displayed in blocks on a counter, just like in a candy store. One selects a flavor and just like fudge, a slice is cut off, wrapped and given to you. Halvah is an acquired taste. It is sweet, a bit flaky and pasty, and oily at the same time. It is made from tahini which is equivalent to our peanut butter. You can find halvah at most health food stores. I used chocolate, which made these apples truly decadent.
One of my favorite songs that I sing for the new year but couldn’t find on You Tube is “Apples and honey, it may sound funny, they will make your new year sweet and sunny, apples and honey.” So..you will have to eat the apples without the song. Enjoy them. And if you are celebrating the New Year, I wish you health, wealth and happiness. Along with a good strong dose of peace. And even if you aren’t, I wish you the same.
Have a sweet year, my friends!
Halvah Stuffed Baked Apples – Jewish Holiday Cooking
Time to Prepare: About 20 minutes active
2 c unsweetened apple juice/cider
1 pinch of cardamom
1 pinch of salt
2 T packed brown sugar
3 Fuji, Empire or Cortland apples
1/3 c plain, or vanilla halvah
3 T toasted chopped walnuts
1/4 c honey
1/4 t cinnamon
3 t mild oil
1 1/2 t pomegranate molasses or regular molasses
Preheat oven to 375. Make the cider base. Put the juice, cardamom and a pinch of salt into a wide heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, and cook uncovered, over high heat until mixture is reduced to about 1/2 a cup. Stir in brown sugar, until it is dissolved and set aside.
Pare off a 1/2″ strip from bottom and top of each apple. Starting at the stem end use an apple corer or sharp paring knife to cut out the seeds and core of the apple being careful not to cut through bottom. Then use the paring knife to cut shallow slits lengthwise through the skin of each apple at 1 1/2′ intervals.
In a medium bowl mash the halvah. Stir in honey, nuts and cinnamon until well combined.
Stand the apples in a shallow baking dish. Place 1 t of oil and 1/2 t of molasses into the hollow center of each apple. Spoon the halvah mixture into the cored center, too. Spoon the cider baste all over the apples.
Bake, basting every 10 minutes or so, until the apples are tender enough to be pricked with a fork. This takes about 45 minutes. Do not let them become mushy.
Spoon the pan juices over the apples again before serving. These may be served warm, at room temperature or chilled. I dolloped mine with some honey yogurt, but feel free to use whipped cream or ice cream.
Other foods for the holiday:
Sage Roasted Chicken with Bread Salad
My Mother’s Brisket
Martha Mervis’s Coffee Cake
Onion Lover’s Twist
Maple Glazed Challah Rolls
Not My Mama’s Kasha Varnishkas