So you thought seders were just for Passover? Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews hold a special seder on Rosh Hashanah, too!
We recite blessings over a variety of foods that symbolize our wishes for the new year. The ritual is called a “seder yehi ratzon” (may it be God’s will) because we ask God to guide us and provide us with bounty, strength and peace in the year ahead. The food, called simanim (signs) include apples, pomegranates, dates, pumpkin, beans, scallions, spinach, and a head of lettuce. Our wishes for are based on word-plays on their Hebrew names. Through these simple foods, we ask for the ability to appreciate the basic goodness of our lives,
Thank you to Jewish Week writer Ronni Fein for writing about the seder. You can read her article here.
Enjoy my special recipe for Apple Maraba, a cooked, spiced apple, to serve at your Rosh Hashanah meal!
4 slightly tart apples (like Macintosh)
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup brown sugar
8-12 whole cloves
1 Tbsp. rose water
2 drops natural red food coloring (optional)
Peel and core apples. Cut into eights (or quarters if apples are small). Set aside. Pour water and sugar into a wide-based cooking pot, bring to a boil and simmer until sugar dissolves. Insert cloves into some of the apple pieces. Add apples, rose water and food coloring (optional; it tints the apples a pinkish color). Bring to a boil and simmer covered (about 10 minutes).
Shake the apples in the pan from time to time. Apples should be soft but retain their shape. Cook uncovered 2-5 minutes longer until liquid evaporates. Apples should NOT completely dissolve into applesauce. Remove from heat and cool. Remove cloves if desired. Double the recipe for more servings.
"The holidays are so late this year!"
If you are like me, you have remarked with surprise, or delight, or regret, that Rosh Hashanah is not until the end of September this year. It doesn't seem to matter that I have had more time to prepare, because no matter when the holidays fall, I don't seem to be ready!
This dilemma made me think about what time means both in Jewish tradition, and in Indian society.
"Jewish time" is legendary, meaning that events never start at the time advertised. Through this lens, the holidays are not really late at all, just running on "Jewish time!" On the other hand, the Jewish calendar is punctilious about time: we light candles, make havdalah, break our fasts, at times that are precise down to the minute. How do we make the most of our time? Arguably the most famous advice comes from Hillel: "If now now, when?"
The Indian attitude towards time is cyclical: the Hindi word for yesterday, kal, is the same as the word for tomorrow. Salman Rushdie jokes about this sameness in Midnight’s Children, “No people whose word for yesterday is the same as their word for tomorrow can be said to have a firm grip on time.” The Indian novelist R. K. Narayan wrote, “In a country like ours, the preoccupation is with eternity, and little measures of time are hardly ever noticed.”
I was intrigued to find out that Mahatma Gandhi's attitude towards time was the opposite: His pocket watch was among the handful of material possessions he owned, and he attached it to his dhoti with a safety pin and a loop of string. He would apologize if he were even a minute late. “You may not waste a grain of rice or a scrap of paper, and similarly a minute of your time,” he wrote.
One of my favorite images of time, one that is both Jewish and Indian, is of the clocktower of Calcutta's Maghen David Synagogue. My daughter Shoshana and I loved being so close to the clock that we could almost touch time!
Tizkoo l'shanim rabot! May you merit many years!
Call her the woman in the window. Seeing Sarah Cohen sitting by the window of her Cochin home was always one of the highlights of all our tours.
Sarah Aunty was 96 when she passed away on August 30, 2019. She was the oldest member of the Jewish community in Mattancherry.
The first time I visited Cochin, in 1997, I met Sarah and her husband Jacob, a lawyer. accountant and former journalist who often conducted services at the Paradesi Synagogue. I was struck by the window, which displayed blue wrought-iron Stars of David. To me it was a sign that the Jews of India were not afraid to express their identities openly.
Most of the members of the prosperous and respected Cochin community made aliyah in the 1950s, but Jacob and Sarah were among the few Jews who chose to remain. Jacob's words will forever ring in my memory: “My heart burns. This was a little Jerusalem," he said. "Israel is my spiritual land, the land of Abraham Isaac and Jacob, but India is my motherland; the only land that offered tolerance, scholarship and prosperity.” Jacob passed away in 1998.
Sarah is legendary for never having missed voting in an election! An example for us all! She has left a legacy worldwide, as many visitors bought her hand-embroidered kippot and hallah covers that she sold in a small shop. They are being used in homes around the world.