When I think of my earliest childhood memories surrounding any Jewish holiday, my senses awaken. I remember the scents, tastes, and textures of matzah, grape juice, and haroset all mixed together on Passover. I remember the jamminess of hamentaschen on Purim. And on Rosh Hashanah, I remember the smell and feel of rich, sticky, sweet honey in all its permutations—honey cake, apples and honey, etc.—and I can't forget the smell of freshly baked round challah, yeasty and slightly sweet. How interesting it is that my earliest memories of holidays are of food! I don't remember the specifics of the rabbi's sermon, or even sitting for hours in synagogue, but I vividly remember our meal. I remember sharing the sweetness of the tastes and smells with our friends and family. I remember the clinking of the utensils on the plates and the hum of the chatter around the table. It should come as no surprise to us, really. After all, Judaism and food go together like lox and a bagel.
What makes a communal meal especially tasty and memorable are the relationships we create with one another. We grow closer together as we engage in discourse and learn from each other. Building those relationships is what sustains and strengthens our Jewish communities and makes us a holy people.
In ancient times, the Temple was the center of Jewish community, but after its destruction, the rabbis realized that the home would have to substitute for the Temple. The Passover sacrifice that was made in the Temple environs was no longer possible, so they painstakingly created a Haggadah to bring the ritual home. But the Haggadah was only a piece of the transformation. The food of Passover also took the place of the Paschal sacrifice and our connection to the food is as strong as any connection to the Haggadah. In fact, the rabbis said, “Your table in your home is now what the altar was to the Temple.” It became a Mikdash Me'at, “A temple in miniature.” (Megillah 29a)
And thus, the Jewish communal meal was born, leading to the creation of generations of special foods and recipes to be enjoyed by all: my grandmother's chicken soup, mom's latkes, and of course I have to give a shout-out to my Uncle Seymour's special brisket.
The start of COVID led to many ending those gatherings suddenly, creating feelings of loneliness and isolation for adults and children alike. We ceased having social gatherings and meals together. As we enter the new year we are learning to live with COVID and trying to return to some sense of normalcy, able to gather once again in person. And what is the most Jewish gathering of all? A meal!
We can recognize how special this moment in time is with ritual. Below is such a ritual from Rabbi Adrienne Rubin that you can perform in your homes before your holiday meals.
Shanah Tuvah UM'tukah!
A sweet and happy New Year to all!
Rabbi Nadia Gold Director of the Jewish Journeys Off-the-Bimah Program
וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם׃
V'asu li mikdash veshachanti b'tocham.
And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them. (Exodus 25:8)
Adonai, bless this Mikdash M'at, this holy space in my home.
Let it be a place of prayer, of contemplation and of meaning.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה, הַמַבְדִּיל בֵּין קֹדֶשׁ לְחוֹל.
Baruch atah Adonai, hamavdil bein kodesh l'chol.
Blessed are You Adonai, who separates between holy and ordinary. (Havdalah Service)
Adonai, may this Mikdash M'at be separated as a holy space.
Let it be distinct and a place of refuge from my daily life.
יִהְיוּ לְרָצוֹן אִמְרֵי־פִי וְהֶגְיוֹן לִבִּי לְפָנֶיךָ יְהוָה צוּרִי וְגֹאֲלִי׃
Yiyu l'ratzon imrei fi, v'hegyon libi l'fanecha, Adonai tzuri v'go-ali.
May the words of my mouth and the prayer of my heart be acceptable to You, O LORD,
my rock and my redeemer. (Psalms 19:15)
Adonai, may the prayers in this Mikdash M'at be heartfelt.
Let them rise to you.
All High Holidays services will be held at JCC Harlem (318 W. 118th St.).
Erev Rosh Hashanah Seder for Families with Rabbi Rachel Maimin
Sun, Sep 25, 4 pm, $36 per family
Harlem Community Tashlich and Shofar Service
Mon, Sep 26, 5:30 pm, Free
Wine Down with Embrace Harlem and FED
Tue, Sep 27, 4 pm, $36 per family
Existential Reckonings: A Reading by Hila Ratzabi, Shelly Oria, and Rosebud Ben-Oni
Wed, Sep 14, 7–8:30 pm, Pay what you wish
Preparing for the High Holidays
Thu, Sep 15, 2–3:30 pm, $5
The Healing Shofar: A Night of Remembrance and Renewal
Tue, Sep 20, 5:30–7 pm, Free
Sounds and Silence: Mindfully Hearing the Shofar
Tue, Sep 20, 7:30–8:30 pm, $10/$12
60+ | Challah Baking for the High Holidays
Fri, Sep 23, 10 am–1 pm, $30/$40
Tashlich in Riverside Park
Thu, Sep 29, 11 am–1 pm, Free
Adaptations | Rosh Hashanah Paint + Sip
Thu, Sep 29, 6–7:30 pm, $18
Fri, Sep 30, 7–9:30 pm, $18
Singing through the Season of Return: A 10 Days Communal Gathering
Sat, Oct 1, 9–10:30 pm, Pay what you wish
Service of Memory + Healing
Sun, Oct 2, 4–5:30 pm, Pay what you wish
Forgive Me Film-a-thon
Mon, Oct 3, 8 pm–Wed, Oct 5, midnight, Free
Yom Kippur Yizkor Memorial Service
Wed, Oct 5, 1:30–2:30 pm, Free
30-Day Racial Equity Challenge - Join Dimensions and the Jewish Emergent Network for 30 days of anti-racism reflection, discovery, action and transformation.
Sign Up for 10Q - Answer 10 questions about the year that has just passed and the year to come, creating a new way to engage in reflection during the High Holidays.
40 Holy Days - a free online toolkit of music and inspiration featuring leading Jewish artists from around the globe