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September 9, 2009 > Hoping for a sweet year at Rosh Hashanah

Hoping for a sweet year at Rosh Hashanah

By Miriam G. Mazliach

While there's no lavish Times Square countdown, noisemakers or popping of corks, Jewish New Year known as Rosh Hashanah has its own unique characteristics and observance.

The holiday marks a time of introspection, prayer, repentance and charity. Members of the Jewish faith spend time with family and friends, attend services at temples or synagogues, and partake in many cultural traditions.

This year, Rosh Hashanah, which means "head of the year" in Hebrew, begins on the evening of Friday, September 18, in accordance with the Jewish calendar.

Candle lighting and prayers begin a holiday meal usually consisting of gefilte fish (fish balls), delicious homemade chicken soup with fluffy matzo balls (cracker dough dumplings) or kreplach (meat-filled dumplings). Signifying the life cycle and wish for a well-rounded year, "challah" (egg bread), is baked in a circular shape rather than the traditional braided version. Slices of apple are dipped in honey in the hope of a sweet year while newly harvested fruits of the season, such as pomegranates are displayed for all to enjoy. Sweet desserts, such as honey or apple cakes and fruit compotes usually round out the meal.

During the "Days of Awe," the ten-day period between Rosh Hashanah culminating with Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), observant Jews believe that their fate for the coming year is written and that only through acts of repentance, prayer and charity, can it be changed. A common theme is to seek reconciliation with people you may have wronged during the course of the previous year.

These "books" are believed to be sealed on Yom Kippur; so, it is customary to greet others with, "May you be inscribed for another year in the Book of Life."
Serving as a call for redemption, and to herald the seriousness of the task ahead, religious services include the sounding of the Shofar, or ram's horn. Performed in four distinct note patterns, the blowing of the Shofar is done multiple times throughout Rosh Hashanah and at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, marking the end of a daylong fast.

Rabbi Avi Schulman of Temple Beth Torah in Fremont says, "Rosh Hashanah signifies the beginning of a new Jewish year. This past year has been a time of pronounced stress and uncertainty due to setbacks and crises in the economy. May our worship together strengthen our faith and may our acts of kindness toward one another bring us renewed hope."

Wishing you all a sweet new year!

For further information about Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur services please contact Temple Beth Torah at (510) 656-7141 or email

Here's a dessert recipe for honey cake, traditionally eaten during Rosh Hashanah. Although there are many variations, this one from "The Jewish Holiday Cookbook," by Gloria Kaufer Greene, is fairly typical.

Honey Orange Cake

4 large eggs
1/3rd cup vegetable oil
1-cup sugar
1-cup honey
1 - T instant coffee granules (decaf)
1-cup warm water
1 - 16 ounce can frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed (but not diluted)
3 and 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose white flour, preferably unbleached
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 - teaspoons baking soda
1 - teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 - teaspoon salt

Coat two - 8 inch or 9 inch loaf pans, with non-stick spray. Line the bottom of each pan with parchment or wax paper; then grease or spray the paper. Set pans aside.

In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer at medium speed to beat together the eggs, oil, sugar, and honey until completely combined. Dissolve the instant coffee granules in the water and add with the remaining ingredients. Beat, scraping the bowl occasionally for 3 minutes, or until the batter is very smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans, dividing it evenly. Bake in a preheated 300-degree oven for about 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean. Cool in the pans on wire racks for 45 minutes. Then run a knife around the edge of each cake to loosen it. Turn each cake out of its pan, and peel the paper from the bottom. Invert the cakes so the tops are facing upward.

These honey cakes taste best when allowed to "mellow" for several hours or overnight, before cutting. They keep well for 3 or 4 days at room temperature, or they may be frozen for several months, well wrapped. (Thaw them wrapped, at room temperature, before serving.)

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