Miriam Spitzer remembers the vacant, glassy stare she'd get from the fish head on her family's festive Rosh Hashanah table when she was a child. It was the food she loved to hate. No Rosh Hashanah was complete without tasting the fleshy fish head and reciting a reading asking that "we be at the head, and not at the tail" in the coming year.
Now the mother of four kids, Spitzer loads her family's holiday table with additional simanim (symbolic holiday foods). Guests are surprised to find not only apples and honey--which represent the hopes for a sweet new year--but also more exotic foods, such as kiwis and mangos to symbolize other wishes for the coming year.
Spitzer's 14-year-old son, Rafi, looks forward to the tasty tradition each year. "I can't imagine celebrating Rosh Hashanah without it," he says.
The tradition of eating simanim dates back 1,500 years, but families like the Spitzers add a twist, selecting a variety of symbolic foods and crafting playful readings for each item. For example, before eating basil, the Spitzers recite: May we base all (basil) our decisions on principles and not fads.
Although the readings are humorous, "it's important to remember that the things we're asking for aren't joking matters," says Miriam Spitzer, Judaic studies coordinator at South Area Solomon Schechter Day School in Stoughton, Massachusetts. "We're asking for peace, for the ability to do more mitzvot, for an end to hatred."
For Rafi, peppering the prayers with a dash of humor makes the custom more appealing--to his funny bone and his taste buds. "The puns are cute," says Rafi, who helped write a number of his family's humorous readings. "This is a fun way to send good wishes for the New Year."
Try these tasty methods for creating Rosh Hashanah simanim readings.
- HAVE PUN WITH WORDS. Does a food’s name sound like another word—or possibly two words put together? For example, you could wish for a prosperous year for your family by eating a piece of lettuce, raisin, and celery together and reciting, “Let us have a raise in salary.”
- WHAT A CHARACTER! Think about the food’s characteristics and what they represent. For example, before eating an onion, you might ask for a new year layered with successes. (Those with a sweet tooth can substitute seven-layer cake!)
- COMBO METHOD. For a mental workout, try combining the above techniques. For a banana—or another food with a peel—you might ask that the coming year have many “appealing” opportunities.