Shanah Tovah, or A Good Year to you. This is the traditional greeting on Rosh Hashanah, which marks the Jewish New Year. This 2016, Rosh Hashanah begins the evening of Sunday, October 2nd and lasts to the evening of October 4th.

The holiday commemorates the world’s creation.  It marks the beginning of a ten-day period of introspection and repentance called the Days of Awe. Yom Kippur is known as the Day of Atonement and represents the end of the Days of Awe. Together, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are considered the two High Holy Days of the Jewish religion.

Some customs worth noting are that work is prohibited. Most of these two days are spent in synagogue. The Shofar, or hollowed out ram’s horn, is sounded as part of the observance. There is a ritualistic emptying of one’s pockets into water, Tashlikh, which is symbolic of casting off sins.

And of course, eating symbolic foods are a major part of this holiday. As a student of food culture, food rituals, religious and other dietary choices and restrictions, I find holidays involving food to be an important part of what I do.

Judaism has its dietary restrictions, such as prohibited pork and shellfish. Meat and dairy can’t be served at the same meal. All food must be Kosher, which is a process based upon the Torah.

Rosh Hashana has some beautiful symbolism around food consumption. Here are just a few for anyone that’s been wondering.

  • While nuts are generally fine, during Rosh Hashana, nuts are prohibited. It has to do with the numerical position of the actual word, nuts, and the word, sin.
  • Challah bread is one of the most recognizable foods of Rosh Hashana. The loaves are shaped into spirals that represent continuity.
  • A fish head is culturally representative of fertility and abundance, but for Rosh Hashanah, it is a way to recognize the literal translation of the holiday, “head of the year.”
  • Try a new fruit on the second night. Either consuming a completely new fruit or one that the family hasn’t had in awhile represents the ushering in of a new season. Often this is pomegranate because it ripens in the Fall, which makes it a new fruit of the season.
  • Apples dipped in honey are symbolic of the hope that all will be blessed with a sweet new year. Honey is common and used in many recipes, but combining it with apples adds a representation of the Garden, among other things.
  • Beets are a way to symbolically remove sin and temptation from the lives and surroundings of the family.
  • There are so many more, such as dates, gourds, carrots, and green beans. Each has a rich connection with language, culture, and symbolism.

I may not be Jewish, but I find interest and beauty in understanding the symbols, rituals, cultural roots, and communal celebrations associated with many religious communities. If nothing else, as a meetings and events professional, it’s important that I respect the needs for Kosher food, specific meats to avoid, and prohibited food pairings. And specifically, during Rosh Hashanah, at least remember not to serve anything with nuts. That tiny effort two days a year will make your jewish guests feel welcome and included and in the end, that’s what our job is about.