Vegetables that have symbolic meaning on Rosh HaShanah include carrots, beets and leeks. Pixabay
Of all the Jewish holidays, the one that comes to mind as being the most symbolically connected to food is Rosh HaShanah. On Rosh HaShanah we eat specific foods as a merit for us to have a good year. Food draws people together; after bonding over a shared meal, warm feelings for one another fill the air which is a crucial part of our holiday. If we want to be forgiven by God for all of our sins, we must be amiable to our fellow people, which is the crux of Rosh HaShanah.
Most of my holiday memories are connected to food. With different ethnic customs, come different food traditions. In elementary school, I was the odd one out whose Rosh HaShanah simanim (symbolic foods) included leeks, beets, gourd — an orange vegetable that tastes like a cross between a pumpkin and squash — and black-eyed peas. Prior to eating any of the simanim, a specific bracha is said in hopes that these foods represent the various blessings we ask of Hashem for the coming year. For example, we eat the black-eyed peas and then say a bracha that Hashem should multiple our good deeds and increase them over our bad ones. Although I never eat leeks unless they are in soup, I avoid beets because of the smell, I only like roasted gourd, and I hate peas, I make an effort to eat these foods to follow my Sephardic traditions. Most years I try to taste at least two or three of the simanim I usually avoid, when I was in seventh grade I decided to eat every single food, no matter how repulsive it was to me. Despite gagging over the slimy black-eyed peas, that Rosh HaShanah, when I was 12 years old, was the only time I ever managed to choke down all the simanim.
Throughout all my years in school, I appreciated being different and loved explaining to my classmates how I have unique customs because of my Moroccan heritage. My favorite is my family's custom to eat a lamb's head on Rosh HaShanah, in place of the customary fish head. My mother orders the lamb's head from our local Jewish supermarket and a few days before Rosh HaShanah my father boils the lamb. Although my mother is the resident chef of our family, cleaning and cooking the lamb's head, with its brown teeth still intact, is something she stays far away from. Instead, my father, who usually sticks to cooking pasta and grilling hamburgers, hot dogs, and steaks, creates a marinade for the lamb's head and boils it. Ironically my sisters, who are the pickiest eaters I know, fight over the last bits of the salty, brown, boiled lamb that reminds me of the taste of ribs. (Photo: The heads of lamb are beautifully displayed on the Abittan holiday table. Courtesy of Deena Abittan)
As we usher in our new year, very different than the secular new year, I am grateful for my family's Rosh HaShanah customs. They set me apart and give me the opportunity to appreciate my heritage. By starting off the year reminded of my family’s unique past, I feel inspired to live up to my ancestors’ examples and strive to be the best person I can be.
In the great Moroccan tradition of simanim, I hope this year brings you more good deeds than bad ones, and for all of us, victory over our enemies.