Even though Rosh Hashanah is just a few days away, families in Kew Gardens Hills, NY (Queens) have been preparing for the Jewish New Year for over a month or more. No matter how far in advance we plan, there is always something that comes up and we need to run out to the store and buy more eggs, apples, honey, challah, chicken, or pomegranates. On Main Street in Kew Gardens Hills, there is no shortage of these items whatsoever. The bakeries have been working overtime and the sweet smells of honey cake and challah are in the air! This is a really fun time to visit the local bakeries and take some of these sweet desserts home. We just love G & I Bakeries, located at 69-40 Main Street. We always purchase a few delicious round challahs for our meals on Rosh Hashanah. What s challah? Challah is braided bread that we eat every Shabbat and holiday, except for Passover when we eat only Matzos for eight days. Challah is usually a braided loaf of bread, but for Rosh Hashanah we eat round challahs to symbolize the continuous cycle of life. Even though our grandparents are not with us physically, they are with us in spirit. I look at my children and I am in awe of how they represent the past, present, and future of our Jewish heritage. They have a piece of all of our family members that are no longer with us and those that still are in their young faces and that is pretty awesome.
Rosh Hashanah is a time for focusing on good things for the year to come, so we add extra sweetness to our menu. How sweet it is! Honey, honey cake, and raisins are added to challah to bring on the extra sweetness. Chicken and side dishes are topped with honey, oranges, and raisins. We also say a special blessing before taking a slice of apple and dipping it in a cup of honey. This blessing is one that we say to request that the new year be full of good “sweet” things in our lives.
There are some more eclectic food items that add meaning to our Rosh Hashanah meal and most of them can be found in the stores on Main Street in Kew Gardens Hills. Not your typical, everyday side dishes, but definitely significant for the new year. On the first night of Rosh Hashanah, apples are eaten, but on the second night, the not so familiar fruits are eaten for the purpose of welcoming the new season. When we eat this new fruit, we say a special blessing, or shehechiyanu to thank G-d for providing us with these new fruits. Fruits like pomegranate, which have 613 seeds, is the same number of mitzvot or “good deeds” that we should provide for our friends and family. There is a great fruit store on Main Street between 76th Road and 76th Avenue and right before Shabbos and Jewish Holidays this place is packed. If you’ve been to open markets in ethnic neighborhoods, the scene at this fruit and vegetable store will be quite familiar. My husband always comes back home with bags full of exotic new fruits. Thank G-d he loves to shop.
Yes, that is a fish head on the table. Since, Rosh means “head” in Hebrew, we eat the head of a fish because we should always be the leaders of our people and perform acts of kindness to all people. Fish also symbolize fertility and abundance, something we should always aspire to achieve in our lives.
Here are some other symbolic dishes and food items with a straight forward explanation from about.com http://judaism.about.com/od/roshhashana/a/shana_food.htm
Head of Lamb, Sweet Chicken or Meat Dish
Head of lamb symbolizes our hope that the Jewish people will lead other nations through their righteousness. The sweet entree symbolizes our wish for a sweet year.
Tzimmes is an eastern European recipe for honey baked carrots. The Yiddish word “meren” means carrots and to increase. Carrots symbolize our hope that we increase our good deeds in the coming year. Some tzimmes recipes add prunes, sweet potatoes or even meat to the sweet carrots.
Spinach symbolizes a green year with plenty of produce.
Rice symbolizes abundance.
“This day is holy to God, your God; do not mourn and do not weep…for the joy of God is your strength.” (Nechemiah 8:9-10). It is said that the Prophet Nechemiah introduced to the ancient Israelites the Persian custom of eating sweet foods to celebrate the New Year.
These last two were mentioned on holidays.net
Less common than round challah, apples, honey or even fish heads, fenugreek is traditionally eaten on Rosh Hashanah by Jewish people of Middle Eastern descent. The tradition likely started since the Hebrew word for fenugreek sounds similar to the Hebrew word for “increase”. When eating the fenugreek, a special prayer is recited asking G-d to increase our merits.
Leeks, Beets & Dates
There are a handful of foods traditionally eaten during Rosh Hashanah that are intended invoke G-d’s protection of the Jewish people from their enemies. Leeks, beets and dates all fit this category.
Another thing I love about my neighborhood is kosher pre-made meals for Shabbos and Holidays. You can get an entire Rosh Hashanah meal complete with all the side dishes and symbolic food items right on Main Street and they can eve deliver it to their home. Even if you did have time to prepare most of the items in advance, you can find what you need to make your meal complete at Mauzone 7230 Main St, Meal Mart 72-10 Main Street, Supersol 6818 Main St,, or Wasserman’s, 7268 Main Street.