It’s hard to believe the Fall Feasts, the Jewish High Holy Days, are already upon us. I’ve been trying to get into the mood despite the swelteringly hot weather – cleaning, putting away my summer things, planting a fall garden, and endlessly revising menus for each of the upcoming holiday meals.
As I clean my house from top to bottom (the dust that blows in from the desert and new construction projects is incredible!), it’s also a time of cleaning spiritually. As I mop the floors yet again, it’s a time of personal sleekhot, to see where I’ve failed both myself and others. It’s a time to clean up all the internal schmutz – resolutions broken, vows not kept, complaining, bad attitudes, being too critical, not forgiving perceived wrongs and injustices. As I wipe the accumulated grime off the windows, I get a clear view of the beautiful rolling mountains of the Galilee. Hopefully, with a firm and renewed resolve, I can face the year with a clearer purpose and a better attitude. It all works together beautifully, if you let it. And there’s always room for improvement… in my thoughts; in my words; in what I have done; in what I have failed to do…
Usually, we Ashkenazi Jews have special communal sleekhot services at synagogue the week before Rosh HaShannah. My son, who is now in the IDF, came home last week telling about the Sephardi services. The Sephardim are Jews who fled to North Africa, Spain and Portugal during the Diaspora. For them, the days of repentance start at the beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul and go for 28 days. A little after midnight, the “kids” on his base gather in their beautiful synagogue (he showed me pictures. It’s really beautiful!!!!) to begin prayers. Every night!!! I’m amazed at the dedication of these youth. They end with the blowing of the shofar, the ram’s horn.
So, we’ve decided to open our home to Lone Soldiers who come in to serve in the army from all over the world. Most have host parents, but some need a place to go for dinner. Max will be serving over the holidays, but a couple girls from his unit will be with us. I’m still waiting to hear how many others we’ll have at our table this year. It’s always exciting to have a group of fun, young people to celebrate with. We will be doing a Rosh HaShannah seder again this year before the meal. So I thought I’d share with you the rubrics. It’s really a fun family activity.
Rosh HaShannah Seder
Today in Israel, many people celebrate the New Year with a Rosh HaShannah seder at home with family on the evening preceding the Holy Day. It comes from the Sepaharad tradition for over 2000 years, and has gained tremendous popularity among Jews of all traditions. The liturgy follows a set order, hence the Hebrew word, seder. The prayers are said in Hebrew (and outside Israel, in the vernacular as well). It’s quite fun, taking place before the festive meal.
2 white candles (or pure beeswax candles)
1 cup/glass red wine or grape juice
1 round challah bread
1 large round plate containing the following items:
- a pomegranate
- a piece of pumpkin
- carrot coins
- green onions
- small, light colored beans
- fish head (a paper cut out on a popsicle stick will do)
- apple slices and a dish of honey
- Order (seder) of blessings: (in English)
Blessing over candle lighting:
Blessed are You, O Lord, our G-d, King of the universe, who sanctifies us by His commandments and ordains us to light the Holy Day lights. Amen.
Thanks for the season:
Blessed are You, O Lord, our G-d, King of the universe, who has kept us in life and sustained us and enabled us to reach this season. Amen.
Blessing over wine:
Blessed are You, O Lord, our G-d, King of the universe, who gives us the fruit of the vine. Amen.
Blessing before hand washing:
Blessed are You O Lord, our G-d, King of the universe who ordains us to wash our hands… forgive me my sins and wash away my iniquities. Amen.
Blessing over bread:
Blessed are You, O Lord, our G-d, who brings forth bread from the earth. Amen.
Raise the pomegranate and say: May it be G-d’s will that our lives may be as full of good deeds as the pomegranate is with seeds. All respond: AMEN!!! Everyone can eat a few arils….
Raise the green onions and say: May it be G-d’s will that we never serve under harsh taskmasters as our ancestors in Egypt. All say: Amen!!!! (children love hitting each other with these fake ‘whips”
Raise the beans and say: May it be G-d’s will for this year that we experience fertility and multiplication. May we be open to life and all creation. All say: AMEN!!!
Raise the fish head and say: May it be your will, O Lord, that we be heads and not tails; leaders instead of followers. All say: AMEN!!!
Raise the pumpkin and say: May it be G-d’s will that any evil decrees against us be torn up and our good merits be read out instead. All say: AMEN!!! (Some of these make more sense in Hebrew as they involve a play on words or symbolism)
Raise the carrot coins and say: May it be within G-d’s will this year that we increase not only in good deeds, but in wealth. All say: AMEN!
Raise the dates and say: May it be Your will, O Lord, that we would have a year of peace. All say: AMEN!!!
Raise the beets and say: May it be Your will, O G-d, that we may always live in freedom. All say: AMEN!!
Dip the apple slices (or challah) into the honey. Distribute and say: May you renew us for a good year, a happy year, a healthy hear, a holy year, and may we all be inscribed in the Book of Life. All say: Amen!!!
Say all together: Let the old year end with all its problems. Let the new year begin with all its blessings! AMEN!!!
During the year for the Sabbath, we eating challah, a sweet, light bread braided into three long strands to form the one golden loaf. Here, for Rosh HaShannah and all during the holidays, we eat a round challah. It symbolizes the eternal G-d, the cycle of the year, and because it is crownlike, the Kingship of G-d. And I will be using the special round, lace challah cover I bought in Budapest last year. It was made by a woman who survived the Holocaust and is quite beautiful.
This year, to celebrate the diversity of the Jewish people in Israel, I will be making two new recipes. The first, a date roast, is a recipe from the mother of a Lone Soldier. Her family is of Persian (Iranian) decent. They now live in Los Angeles, and her daughter eats it every Rosh HaShannah, so in her honor…. The other recipe is from Morocco… a chicken and garbanzo bean mixture wrapped in phyllo that was heavenly on my first trial run. Plus, a traditional tsimmes, a carrot and dried fruit recipe from my mom that I do every fall, except this year I shall use the red, purple and yellow carrots from my garden for added color.
DATE ROAST serves 8 (Basari/meat dish)
There are Jews living all over the world. During the Babylonian and Assyrian exiles in the Old Testament, many of the Jewish people decided they would live in what is today Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen instead of returning to their homeland. Many Jewish people also fled to these areas after the Children of Israel were scattered into the world by the Romans in 70 AD. Today, most of these Jews have returned to Israel, bringing with them their culinary traditions. This date roast is from the Middle Eastern Jews, very different from the European Ashkenazi Jews. It is often served during the fall feasts.
2 (2 ½ lb) boneless beef chuck roasts, each about 7x4x2 inches (18x10x5 cm)
4 tsp brown sugar
3 TBSP olive oil
1 pound onions, thinly sliced
6 TBSP red wine vinegar
½ tsp ground allspice (English pepper)
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt & ½ tsp ground pepper
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup orange juice
½ cup tomato sauce
2 cups pitted dates
Preheat oven to 350 (180C) degrees. Heat 2 TBSP oil in heavy, wide, ovenproof pot over medium high heat. Add roasts, one at a time, and brown, searing all edges, about 8 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate. Add 1 TBSP oil and the onions to the pot. Sautee until dark brown, but not crispy, stirring constantly. Mix in vinegar and spices, boil until reduced to a glaze, scraping up browned bits. Add broth, OJ, and tomato sauce. Bring to a low boil. Return roasts and their accumulated juices to the pot. Scatter dates around the roasts. Cover pot. Place in oven. Braise roasts for about one hour. Turn roasts over and braise again, about one more hour. Remove from oven and tilt pot, removing fat/grease from the top. Let roasts rest about 10 minutes and transfer to a platter. Cut into ½ inch slices along the diagonal. Spoon sauce over top.
MOROCCAN B”STEEYA Serves 6-8 (Basari/meat dish)
Season the chicken the night before and keep in the fridge so the flavors fully absorb.
1 whole roaster chicken about 2 kg (4.5 pounds), cut up
Course sea salt & freshly ground pepper
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 tsp crumbled saffron
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup coarsely chopped cuzbara (cilantro)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup cooked chickpeas (garbanzos) – can be canned
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp freshly grated orange peel
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup canola oil
1 3/4 cup blanched whole almonds, toasted & coarsely chopped
3 Tbsp powdered sugar plus more for sprinkling
1/4 cup orange blossom water (available in many markets or Middle Eastern stores)
1 package phyllo dough, store bought (1 pound/ 454 grams)
Put chicken and 1/3 cup salt in large bowl. Toss to coat. Refrigerate 1 hour. Rinse chicken with cold water & pat dry. Mix chicken, onion, garlic, saffron, spices and 1/2 cup parsley and 1/4 cup cilantro in bowl. Cover and let sit overnight in fridge.
Transfer chicken mix to a large heavy pot. Add enough water to cover (4-6 cups). Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium. Add 1/4 cup oil; cover, and simmer until chicken is falling off the bone. Keep broth in pot, but remove chicken to plate after about an hour of cooking. Let cool. Remove meat, discarding skin and bones. Shred chicken. Set aside.
Bring reserved broth to a boil over high heat. Cook until reduced to about 3/4 cup. Reduce heat to medium. Slowly, slowly, slowly!!!! drizzle in eggs while whisking briskly until mixture becomes quite thick, about 4 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup chopped parsley, 1/4 cup cilantro, orange peel, juice and garbanzos. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool.
Stir together chopped, roasted almonds, sugar, 1/2 tsp cinnamon in a small bowl. set aside.
Preheat oven to 190*C/375*F. Brush a parchment lined baking dish with 2 Tbsp olive oil. Stir 1/4 cup canola oil oil with the orange blossom-water in a small bowl.
Brush a sheet of phyllo dough with the oil/blossom mix, leaving a 4 inch overlay on each side. Repeat with phyllo and oil until you reach 8 layers, making sure not to let phyllo dough dry out. (I keep it wrapped in a very damp towel when not using). Spread chicken mixture out over the dough. Pour egg mixture overtop. Top with 5 layers phyllo brushed with oil/blossom mixture. Sprinkle the top with the ground almonds. Fold up the edges of the phyllo to enclose like an envelope. Top with 5 more phyllo/oil layers and tuck those sheets underneath like a blanket. Crimp edges with a fork. Brush top with the oil. Bake until golden brown on top, about 30-40 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand 15 minute sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar mix. You can add a few almonds the top for presentation. Slice to serve…
TSIMMES (vegetarian serves 8)
This is a typical Ashkenaz Jewish side dish, but is great served alongside a roast. It, too, is often served at the holidays and for the Sabbath meal.
1 bunch carrots, peeled and sliced into 1 inch coins
6 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large cubes
½ cup pitted prunes
2 apples, peeled and sliced thickly
1 cup orange juice
1 cup honey or silan (date honey, if vegan)
½ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cloves
Preheat oven to 350 (180C). Wash and peel carrots and sweet potatoes. Cook carrots and sweet potatoes in boiling, salted water, until tender, but still firm. Line a baking dish with foil greased with the canola oil. Drain carrots and potatoes and place in the pan with the prunes. Stir gently. Mix OJ, honey, salt, and spices. And pour evenly over veggies. Cover with more foil and bake for 30 minutes. Stir gently and bake for another 10 minutes.
So, it’s off to another store run for me. Have a happy, healthy, holy – and above all PEACEFUL New Year!!!!