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Signs and Symbols of the New Year: Rosh HaShana in Israel 5773 - 2012

20 September, 2012

We are now between the holidays of Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). These holy days are explained to us in Leviticus 23:

“Say to the Israelites: ‘On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of sabbath rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts. Do no regular work, but present a food offering to the Lord.’” (v. 24)

“The tenth day of the seventh month is the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves, and present a food offering to the Lord. Do not do any work on that day, because it is the Day of Atonement, when atonement is made for you before the Lord your God.” (v. 27-28)

Despite the serious nature of this time of the year, when penitence and prayer are on the minds of many, there is also great joy. Festive meals on Rosh Hashana are celebrated across the generations (as attested to by the long lines in Israeli grocery stores!), and many people include symbolic foods as part of their feasting.

It is customary to offer blessings for the new year as these symbolic foods are eaten. Some of them are Hebrew word plays, but others are reminiscent of the sweet taste or appearance of the foods themselves. Many of the most popular foods are in high season in Israel right now, including apples, dates and pomegranates.

We are partial to pomegranates, whose beautiful appearance is only deepened by their wonderful health benefits. Beloved in the region for many centuries, on Rosh Hashana we ask God that our merits increase as the (plentiful) seeds of the pomegranate.

Dates are sold dried throughout the year, but fresh dates can only be found as summer turns to fall. The hot, dry Bet She’an valley in Israel’s north is especially noted for its date crop. When dates are eaten on Rosh Hashana, we beseech God that our enemies be consumed.

Rosh HaShana apples in the Ramle market in Israel

Honey-dipped apple slices are probably the best-known Rosh Hashana food. They symbolize the promise and sweetness of a new beginning. As we refresh our blog with the promise to bring you more on our favorite topics of health, nutrition and the Land of Israel, we leave you with the traditional apples-and-honey blessing: May God renew for all of us a good and a sweet year.

 
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