Jerusalem, September 8, 2010 – 29 Elul 5770
This morning I went out to do the last minute shopping for Rosh Hashanah. Wendy was already up early, busy in the kitchen preparing for the guests that we are having for Rosh Hashanah lunch on Thursday. Fortunately we are invited to friends’ for dinner tonight for the traditional evening meal to begin the holy day following services at sunset, so Wendy does not have to go into full frantic mode this year. My job this morning was to buy the challah – the bread to bless and begin the meals for Rosh Hashanah and, this year, as the two-day celebration runs into Shabbat, the loaves for Friday and Saturday as well. Two rounds for Rosh Hashanah (the traditional style for the New Year) and four braided challahs for Shabbat. Six challahs – quite a big order for us. Two challahs for each Shabbat meal to remind us of the double portion of manna proved for our ancestors on Shabbat during the desert wanderings before entering the Promised Land so that they would not have to work at gathering for their meal on that day.
I drove to Emek Refaim Street, the main thoroughfare of “the German Colony,” the shopping district of our corner of Jerusalem. It is there, actually just off Emek Refaim on Rachel Imeinu Street, where one of Jerusalem’s gastronomic gems is located – the local branch of Marzipan bakery. Marzipan, once located only in Jerusalem’s fabled open air market, “Mahane Yehuda” downtown, recently opened this branch just five minutes from our house. The bakery is most famous for its chocolate rugelach, mouth-watering confections of flakey pastry and chocolate drenched in their secret syrup. Others may look like Marzipan’s rugelach, but no other bakery’s can compare to this gold-standard. They are so good, that rugelach aficionados line up to buy kilos of them packed in plastic boxes to take on the plane with them to return home or to visit friends outside of the country (I confess that we have been known to take as much seven kilos – that is almost fifteen pounds with us when visiting family back in Los Angeles). But, as good as the rugelach are at Marzipan (sorry if I am getting a little too Proustian here), on Friday mornings, the aromas that dominate the small shop and waft out onto the street beckoning passers-by are not the yeasty-chocolate of the rugelach, rather the rich warmth of the challahs. And it was the challah that was my objective this morning.
However, even before I was within sniffing distance, way before I made the turn onto Rachel Imeinu to look for parking, in fact just as I made my way onto Emek Refaim I saw something unusual was in the air. There were police cars and groups of police everywhere. This was not unusual in of itself; there is a heightened security response during every holiday time. But this was different. It appeared to me at least that the number of police and their positions at every strategic corner along the street suggested a greater security presence than we normally see at this time. And no wonder, with the New Year juxtaposed with the beginning of new peace talks there is every temptation for those who want to stir up trouble to take this opportunity to strike where we are most vulnerable. The bustling Emek Refaim area, crowded with holiday shoppers many, if not most of whom, emigrated from abroad (it is a heavily “Anglo” area made up of Israelis whose origins are in English-speaking countries, plus a growing admixture of Jews from France), would provide a would-be terrorist with a sure-bet world-wide headline capturing target. We know that. The authorities know that. And that is the reason for the extra security. It was by no means a reason not to go to Marzipan to pick up my challah. In fact, there is another message implicit in the symbolism of this heightened vigilism – we need to be on guard because at least there is a peace process (as tenuous as it may be) and there are those (and both sides) who are threatened by it. But there is a peace process.
This Rosh Hashanah for the first time in years, we look forward to a new year in which Israelis and Palestinians will be sitting down together and talking about peace based on a two-state solution with defined borders and resolving the issues of refugees and Jerusalem. That is certainly worth the extra traffic and increased risk on Emek Refaim, isn’t it?
I bought my challah and, along with the candles that we light to welcome the holy day and the wine that we use to declare its sanctity, we will enjoy our festive meals. We will also dip apples in honey to remind us that we hope for a sweet new year. The Rosh Hashanah tradition of dipping apples in honey is actually part of a tradition sometimes called segulot. Segulot are an interesting, albeit much neglected, custom among many Jews. Unfortunately only dipping apples and honey is widely known, but for many Jewish communities it is customary to recite segulot or little benedictions over a variety of foods. The segulot make puns in Hebrew (usually on the names of the food), associating a desired characteristic to be emphasized or outcome for the future. Here are some examples:
After eating dates
May it be Your will ADONAI, our God and God of our ancestors, that sin is eliminated from the earth and wickedness is no more.
After eating pomegranates
May it be Your will, ADONAI, our God and God of our ancestors, that we may be as filled with mitzvah deeds as a pomegranate is filled with seeds.
After eating fenugreek or black-eyed peas
May it be Your will ADONAI, our God and God of our ancestors, that our merits increase.
In a kind of sympathetic magic, the ritual of these segulot project our hopes for the future to lighten the uncertainties of a world heavy with so many harsh realities. This year, a few days after we begin this New Year, Prime Minister Netanyahu will sit down with President Abbas to continue (in earnest) the hard work of peace making. We have been here before, too many times. It is, as the Bronx sage Yogi Berra put it, “Déjà vu all over again.” Or is it? This time will hope trump despair? This time will the nay-sayers on both sides be silenced by the voices of reason and moderation? There is little to be negotiated. The parameters of the settlement have already been determined during the years of previous negotiations. Now is the time for statesmanship. Now is the time for the courage of the peacemakers. The question is, of course, is this the time this time?
I have a new segulah for this year:
After eating onions
May it be Your will ADONAI, our God and God of our ancestors, that the peacemakers not be like onions with their heads in the ground!
We wish you all a happy and fulfilling New Year blessed with peace. Shanah Tovah! And, shalom from Jerusalem.