Celebrating outside brings us back to time-honored customs.
This month is Elul, a time of repentance in preparation for the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah (the New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). At sundown on the Gregorian calendar day of September 29, 2019, and on the Hebrew calendar day 1 Tishrei 5780, the new year will begin.
Celebrating the beginning of a new year is an almost universal tradition filled with family gatherings, feasts and festivals. This early fall holiday is the perfect time of year to celebrate outside on the patio. Here are a few deeply symbolic traditions that carry wishes and blessings for the High Holidays and some ideas on taking the celebrations outdoors in the fresh fall air.
BLOWING THE SHOFAR
Begin your patio repast with a hard blow on the shofar, an instrument traditionally made from a ram’s horn, to mark the Rosh Hashanah holiday. The shofar is steeped in meaning for the Jewish people. For this holiday, it helps celebrate creative energy of a greater power, serves as a reminder to wake up and mend our ways, to always remember the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and more. Different Jewish customs surround the blowing of the shofar, but to hear its first wail is to know Rosh Hashanah has begun.
Tossing breadcrumbs into a large, flowing body of water like a river represents the casting off of our sins. After dinner, go on a forest walk or hit a local trail to find a creek or waterfall that can help you honor the spirit of tossing transgressions. The act of tossing crumbs also symbolically begins the period of fasting and self-reflection leading up to Yom Kippur.
Nothing carries the aroma of outdoors like flowers, and a taste of honey from those flowers is the perfect way to add a wish of sweetness to the new year. Often served with apple slices, 100% pure bee pollen honey is the kosher (i.e. sanctioned by Jewish law) combo to enjoy during Rosh Hashanah. Honey comes in different flavors, thanks to the flowers the bees pollinate. For a fun twist, find pure, organic honey from various regions and pair with various apple slices. (Hint: a quick spray of a mixture of fresh squeezed lemon juice and water can help the apple slices from browning, or soak them in a bowl of 2 tablespoons of honey and 1 cup of cold water before serving). A bouquet on the patio table of the same fresh wildflowers the honey hails from would be a wonderful and meaningful touch to the decor.
Crunching on fresh organic carrots represents the victory over other’s negative ill will. You can stretch the carrot theme by serving carrot soup, carrot kugel or carrot cake. Carrot-themed decor for a picnic-style celebration could be infuse some humor into the day.
Fish heads and heads of other animals carry with them the strong symbolism of progress and forging ahead in the new year. After all, we’d rather be ahead of the game than on the tail end of it, right? The “Rosh” in Rosh Hashanah means “head”, and the celebration is about high spirits and new beginnings.
Strong smells can also accompany fish, which makes fish a great candidate for grilling outdoors. Grill the whole fish, head too, with lemon and herbs. A tongue-in-cheek option for those who are animal-head averse can be a head of lettuce or a cooked head of cabbage (also good to cook on the outdoor stovetop). Fish without the head is also symbolic for the holiday, as fish were once thought to be in constant motion and always aware of the goodness available in life. All sorts of great kosher recipes are online for salmon and other fish dishes.
DATES AND POMEGRANATES
Getting outside to eat connects us with age-old agriculture techniques, practiced by the Jewish people for millennia. Dates and pomegranates are fruits that come from the Seven Species of Israel, a group of five fruits and two grains that are said to be the first offerings in the Temple. (The other Species are wheat, barley, grape, fig, and olive.) Date honey is what is thought to be referred to when Israel is said to flow with “milk and honey.” These fruits represent victory over one’s enemies. Pomegranates, with their many, many seeds, also symbolize blessings coming to us in the coming year.
The braided sabbath bread is a must for any celebration. Grilling this family favorite is a way to keep the heat outside and the inside of the house cool, especially when those late-summer heat waves hit.
Each family has their own savory and sweet favorites, but brisket and kugel are likely to be present at any Rosh Hashanah celebration. A kind of chicken soup made with egg noodles, called lokshen, may also be on the table. Chopped liver often is an appetizer. Regional and national dishes may vary, especially between the Ashkenazic and Sephardic cultures.
These lovely and ancient new-beginnings traditions can be shared by all of us, whether we are members of the tribe or just Jewish-adjacent. It’s a wonderful time to share our hopes and dreams for a prosperous and peaceful new year.