September is my favorite month of the year because it heralds the imminent return of our High Holydays. The first hint of the coming Jewish New Year is the sound that comes from our neighbor’s apartment starting about two weeks before the holiday, as he practices blowing the Shofar, a trumpet which is made from a ram’s horn and used during religious services . The sound of the Shofar always propels me back to my conservative Jewish roots and childhood memories of attending High Holyday services with my parents and brothers. Our neighbor’s practice sessions don’t have the ringing tone one hears at the synagogue, because in consideration of his neighbors he muffles the sound.
My Israeli family being secular, our holidays revolve around the social aspects, meaning family gatherings and food. Our holiday meals have been “pot luck”, a joint collaboration of everyone’s efforts, for about the past 10 years. When my dear 80 year-old Polish mother-in-law felt more energetic, no one could assist her in preparing the holiday meal. It was most definitely a one-woman show. But the last few years have settled on her a bit hard and she’s passed the baton of holiday meal preparation to her daughters-in-law. (Honestly though I’d wish she’d share her recipes now as well. My own mother (z”l)* never wrote down her mother’s apple strudel recipe and, well, it’s lost.)
Every year we’re torn between preparing traditional holiday foods and trying something different. In our family, however, any food that isn’t from the East European, i.e. Ashkenazic, kitchen is considered a bit exotic. We are connoisseurs of the bland palate. My contributions to this year’s holiday meal are a cooked green vegetable, honey cake and a dessert with apples. I really do believe that in spite of our good intentions to try something new, we come back to the same foods every year because they speak to us on an emotional level. It wouldn’t be the same holiday if we ate Nouvelle Cuisine.
Even if our menu doesn’t change from year to year, changes, of course, are inevitable. My father-in-law (z”l) won’t be with us this year, our daughter lives and works abroad and can’t visit for the holiday, right after the New Year our older son will be leaving on an extended trip abroad and our oldest nephew will soon begin his mandatory military service. When we sit down to the holiday table this year, dip a slice of apple in honey and wish each other a Sweet New Year, it will be said with the knowledge that not only are we continuing Jewish tradition, but celebrating our family’s traditions as well, in spite of change.
*(z”l) means “may his/her memory be blessed”, noted for someone who has passed away.