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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

The New Year: Always an Opportunity For Something New

Rosh Hashannah, as the first of the fall holidays, comes in with all of the pomp and ceremony that it deserves as one of Judaism's celebrations of the new year. (there are no less that four new years in the Jewish year). It is the holiday of shofar blowing, yes, but it is also the holiday of my special brisket recipe, of chicken soup and matzah balls, of round challot dipped in golden honey instead of salt, of apples and honey, of pomegranates that stain the tablecloth red each year. The Ashkenazi food, from my side of the family, would be combined with Persian stews called Choreshts, made with bundles of greens or eggplant and green beans, all with the addition of dried limes for a unique flavor. We would all chip in with the cooking and the baking. Like the Jews who built the the mishkan, each family member had their own speciality, whether it was baking carrot cakes, or making challot, or making the briskets or the chicken soup or bringing a basket of pomegranates and apples.

As much as we devote our energy to the important fall holidays, so much of our energy is devoted just to the planning. Planning for an event is nearly as fun as the event itself!

"What will we make? Who will cook what? When will you come over to cook? Will you cook at our house or just bring it from your house? Does Costco have briskets this year? Where can we find pomegranates? What will be our first fruit this year?" Many stores, shopping trips and texts later and we are finally ready for the holidays. It's the holiday of the New Year, but also the holiday of the family, the holiday of the stove, sink and cooking!

In our home, the children, my mother, my brothers and their families, beloved cousins, nieces and friends who have become family would crowd into our home. We would set up tables in the living room and set up a buffet (another word that makes our food sound so continental) and there would be a that beautiful feeling of organized chaos that was our signature for so many holidays. As I sit at my computer now I can envision the living room with tables set up and the buzz of conversation and laughter surrounding me.

Who would have imagined that this year things would be so different, so much smaller and so "unique." It's the first year that we will have Rosh Hashannah without my mom as part of the festivities. Instead of cooking for 30 I will be cooking for two. Five briskets becomes zero. Instead of planning menus for two days of Yom Tov/Shabbat, we are planning for picnic foods to eat outdoors with our family. Although it's easy to get bogged down in what we don't have this year, more importantly we need to be grateful for what we do have, which includes family, friends, online communication. Not to be lost in all of the planning, we also have unique opportunities to think out of the box this year, to create new possibilities for our families, friends and community.

This year in our family we initiated a new tradition, the "secret sweet treat" tradition. Family members were assigned another member of the extended family. Their job was to surprise that family member with a sweet treat, a greeting card or a postcard or a small token to represent the sweetness of the new year. It was so much fun to get surprises from others in advance of the holiday! The traditional Sephardic Rosh Hashannah seder was done online before the holiday began this year for a unique way for extended family to connect. During the holiday the emphasis was on family instead of food. The switch lent itself to an an entirely new and meaningful celebration of the new year where conversation overruled honey cake and where family togetherness trumped even the delicious brisket.

This year we made a donation was to a food pantry with some of the funds we would have spent on food for our gathering. It's just a small gesture, but another way to make this holiday not less than other years, but just a little different and differences force us to grow!

Change happens through differences and changed circumstances. Maybe each of us are forging new traditions that we might even use after this pandemic is in the history books. Who knows? Let's all continue to innovate and create new ways to celebrate these ancient and beloved holidays.


For a great article on celebrating the holidays differently this year, please read this article written by a friend and colleague, Margie Bogdanow, on celebrating the holiday this year.

For the brisket recipe that I have used successfully for years, go to: Beef Recipe With Beer

For a Choresht Bademjan recipe go here:

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