The holidays are almost here and the cooking has begun! Time for family, reflection and looking towards the year ahead.
One of the rich and unique traditions of our Sephardic families is a Rosh Hashanah Seder. It is a short service we conduct around our tables with the Rosh Hashanah evening meal, with some families doing it on both nights. Including the traditional blessings done at the holiday meal table (Kiddush, Washing of the Hands, HaMotzi), blessings are also said over symbolic foods, expressing our hopes and wishes for the year ahead. Most of the foods used are those whose names in Hebrew sound similar to one of the wishes expressed, so there is some fun associated with this!
Although primarily a Sephardic tradition, many others have begun adding the Seder to their Rosh Hashanah celebrations. My father remembers the “ratzones” from his childhood in Seattle…we began sharing the tradition with our children and friends within the past decade. Rabbi Yitz Greenberg suggests that each family add some blessings of our own, adding to our family traditions, adding puns we create around foods we include, which we have done from time to time. One of our Rebbetzins, Penina Schochet, suggested that we select a new fruit each year, having our young children be part of the process, and say a “shehecheyanu” over the addition of the new fruit, as a way to further grace our Rosh Hashanah table and include our children in selecting and trying something new.
Some families refer to this “service” as the “Yehi Ratzones”, referring to the words used “May it be Your will …” as referencing the symbolism that is to be recited. Often one hears the words “simanim”, referring to the ‘symbolic’ foods used. I will note some of the foods we eat and the translation of the blessings we say, primarily based on the materials prepared and provided by Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel (STTI) in Westwood, California, as well as materials prepared by the Maimon Family in Seattle, Washington.
Finally, my good friend, Linda Sendowski (The Boreka Diary) has some wonderful recipes for Rosh Hashana foods, specifically these symbolic foods, on her blog, which I share with you.
Check it out…and consider including some of these ideas and blessings at your Rosh Hashanah table this year.
For our Seder, we prepare a plate on the table that holds some of each symbolic food, and a prepared page for all our guests, including the blessings we will recite for the evening so all can participate. We include the Hebrew and English, and some years, the Ladino. Adapt as is comfortable for your household. We start with the Kiddush, the Shehecheyanu, Birkat Yeladim (Blessing of the Children), Washing the Hands, and the Hamotzi.
Following that, we recite a few blessings with intended good for the New Year, over some symbolic foods. The foods we use are usually plentiful during this season. Their Hebrew names, shades or colors remind us of our hopes and dreams for the year ahead. It is noted that “foods provide us an occasion to wish away our fears and verbalize our deepest hopes, as well as a chance to pun on their names in a number of local tongues”. (Source: Noam Zion in his paper Seder Rosh Hashanah).
1. Apples dipped in sugar or honey; apple cooked in sugar or honey; or candied apples:
Yehi Ratzon May it be your will, Lord our God and God of our Fathers, to renew upon us a good and sweet year, from the beginning of the year until the end of the year.
Baruch Ata Adonai Elohenu Melech Haolam Bore Peri Haetz.
2. Leeks (karti):
Yehi Ratzon May it be your will, Lord our God and God of our Fathers, that our enemies be cut off, as well as those who desire to do us harm.
(this is based on the wordplay between the Hebrew word for leek, “karti”, which is similar to the word “korat”, meaning “to cut off”)
3. Beets or Spinach (“silka” is usually identified as beets; Keter Shem Tov says it refers to spinach):
Yehi Ratzon May it be your will, Lord our God and God of our Fathers, that our enemies disappear, as well as those who desire to do us harm.
Yehi Ratzon May it be your will, Lord our God and God of our Fathers, that our enemies be consumed as well as those who desire to harm us.
(this is based on the wordplay between the Hebrew for dates, “tamar”, which is similar to a word meaning to “end” or “consume”)
5. Pumpkin or gourd (zucchini or squash; “kalavasa” is often used):
Yehi Ratzon May it be your will, Lord our God and God of our Fathers, that you should tear up any evil decrees against us and let our merits be read before you.
(this is based in the wordplay between the Aramaic word for pumpkin or gourd, “kara”, and the Hebrew word meaning to “tear”)
6. Fish (pishkado):
Yehi Ratzon May it be your will, Lord our God and God of our Fathers, that our merits may multiply as the fish in the sea. Others have commented that as fish is a symbol of abundance and fertility, we ask God to Bless us with both.
7. “Ruviah”, often identified as Fenugreek, although sometimes referred to as black eyed peas or string beans. It is told that in Bagdad, it was referred to as “luviah”. Since it was similar to the Hebrew word “lev”, meaning heart, the word “ut-labevenu” (meaning “and purify us”) was added. (Linda Sendowski has a great recipe for Black Eyed Peas!)
Yehi Ratzon May it be your will, Lord our God and God of our Fathers, that our merits increase and that you purify us.
8. Pomegranates ( Used the seeds in your cooking, in a salad, or see Debby Segura’s recipe for making a Granita)
Yehi Ratzon May it be your will, Lord our God and God of our Fathers, that our merits increase as the seeds of the pomegranate.
9. Head of Fish (something from the head….in our family, my Aunt Belina Hasson used to make tongue (I cannot get myself to even buy a tongue, let alone figure out how to cook it….so, since this is based on puns, we use a “head” of lettuce):
Yehi Ratzon May it be your will, Lord our God and God of our Fathers, that we may be in the forefront as the head, and not the background, as the tail.
The festival meal then follows.
In keeping with Yitz Greenberg’s suggestions, one could add:
Peaches: May it be a “peachy” year
Dates: May our single friends have many “dates” this year
Mushrooms: May our abundance “mushroom” in the years ahead….
Have fun with this and make it meaningful to your family!
My friend, Debby Segura, combines all the symbolic foods into a beautiful and tenderly delicious salad which she serves as an early course. Her recipe for a “New Year Simanim Salad” is posted here. I have served it many times….it is enjoyed by all, and the symbolism makes it ever more special! ( Debby Segura)
Finally, I am attaching a link to a YouTube series of “The Selichot of Ezra Bessaroth”, in Seattle, Washington. It is a ten-part series of the Selichot service in the tradition of the Jews of Rhodes, led by Hazzan Isaac Azose, with many in the Congregation participating. The melodies are familiar to those of us who grew up in Rhodesli Sephardic Synagogues. There is something comforting and reaffirming in melodies, memories and flavors of our youth. I hope you will take a few minutes to listen and enjoy.
Please share with us any of your own family traditions….we would love to post them. Sharing keeps traditions alive and evolving for each new generation!
From my parents, Jack and Kaye Israel, my husband Robert, and our sons, Jason and David….Tizku Leshanim Rabot…May we all merit many years; Anyada Buena….a good, and meaningful New Year to you all!
~Marcia Israel Weingarten