Growing up in America, Rosh Hashana meant an apple and honey, a new fruit (usually an over-priced and under-flavored pomegranate), and tzimmis as per my dad’s request (that my mom reluctantly made). On my first Rosh Hashana in Israel, I was shocked to experience a full preamble to the Rosh Hashana meal – a course of “Seder Simanim.” Until then, I thought the only “Simanim” (symbolic foods) of Rosh Hashana were apples and honey – for a sweet new year. I’d also heard rumors about people who have a fish head on the table (representing the “Rosh” – head – of the year), but thought no one actually does that, right?
There is a widespread tradition in Israel to eat a long list of foods representing different blessings for the new year. Pomegranates are on this list, and often made their way to my childhood Rosh Hashana table as the “new fruit,” not as a “Siman.” Pomegranate trees are common in Israel, and when you walk down the street this time of year, you will see beautiful big, red pomegranates hanging from the branches. The abundance of red, juicy seeds found in a pomegranate are likened to the 613 mitzvot of the Torah, and before eating it on Rosh Hashana, we recite the verse, “May we be full of merits like the pomegranate.”
Upon further inspection, I found a list of the Simanim with their meaning and accompanying verses in my own Artscroll Machzor! Check out the list below for some traditional Simanim, with our suggestions of how to incorporate them into your own Rosh Hashana Seder:
- Fenugreek or carrots for “increased merits.” Add carrots to your meal with the traditional Jewish dish tzimmes.
- Leek or cabbage for God to “destroy those who hate us.” Add cabbage to your meal with some delicious stuffed cabbage.
- Beets so that “our enemies be removed.” Add beets to your meal with some delicious, sweet roasted beets.
- Dates for “our enemies to perish.” Add dates to your dessert with this sweet date cake.
- Gourd for “the decree of our sentence be torn, and our merits be proclaimed before God.” Add gourd to your meal with this interesting dessert, candied gourd!
- Fish so that we will “be fruitful and multiply like fish.” Add fish to your meal with this unique recipe.
- Head of a sheep or fish so that we “be as the head and not as the tail.” No recipe needed.
Many Israelis hold a “Seder Simanim” before the evening meal of Rosh Hashana in which they sample each of the foods and recite the corresponding verses. If that is too formal for you, you can also find amazing recipes online that use the Rosh Hashana Simanim as part of the traditional meal (like this delicious Simanim chicken recipe!). Some families even add their own Simanim – for example raisin+celery for a “raise in salary” (try saying it out loud). Some French Olim have bananas for a “bonne année” – a good year. If you hope to make Aliyah, add grapes to your table to “immiGRAPE” to Israel this year!
Living in Israel is incredibly special, especially during the holidays. It is amazing to have a holiday in which we traditionally eat pomegranates and to literally see them blossoming all around me. We still have the apple dipped in honey, reminiscent of my childhood in America, but we have also added so many more exciting elements to our holiday. Personally, I love incorporating many of the Simanim into my Rosh Hashana menu, but please don’t expect to find a fish or sheep head on my dinner table!
If you think of any funny or special Simanim, please let us know so we can add them to our table next year!