Breaking News Today

The Wonder of a Persian Rosh Hashanah Seder

Published: in Jewish News by .

Why is there a fish head on the table?” asked my mother when my sister, who was born in Tehran, and her husband, whose customs hail from Tunisia, hosted their first Rosh Hashanah seder in Los Angeles. 

The post The Wonder of a Persian Rosh Hashanah Seder appeared first on Jewish Journal.

“Why is there a fish head on the table?” asked my mother when my sister, who was born in Tehran, and her husband, whose customs hail from Tunisia, hosted their first Rosh Hashanah seder in Los Angeles.

Indeed, none of us knew what to say at the sight of a giant, cooked trout head next to a cup of wine. My brother-in-law explained that it was a North African custom symbolizing a hope to be at the metaphoric head, rather than the tail, of the year. He then added, “Now, pass the fish around the table and whoever wants to can poke it in the eye.”

I’ve seen many interesting delicacies, the most memorable of all being my grandmother’s famous brain soup (yes, brain soup) back in Iran, which consisted of cloudy chunks of cow brain floating in a clear broth. My grandmother insisted the soup would make me smarter, but I’ve yet to see the results.

Brain in a bowl is one thing, but poking a dead fish in the eye is far more interesting.

Brain in a bowl is one thing, but poking a dead fish in the eye (some lick their finger afterward as the ultimate connection with being at the head) is far more interesting. In truth, I was relieved to see a huge bowl of cow tongue at that Rosh Hashanah seder (Iranians serve tongue as another symbol of being at the head of the year).

I thought Persian Rosh Hashanah simanim, or signs, were unique, until I learned about the rich diversity of Tunisian customs. And then I attended my first Ashkenazi Rosh Hashanah dinner, where the lovely host treated guests to challah, apples and honey, and then served dinner. Where were the other simanim? I was so traumatized that I went home and devoured an entire pomegranate, aril by aril (there were over 600 arils total).

READ:  After Afghanistan’s last Jew refused to leave, his would-be Jewish rescuers helped dozens of other Afghans escape instead

The Rosh Hashanah seder traces its roots to the Babylonian Talmud (circa 300 CE). For years, I believed that all Jews enjoyed as much simanim as Persians (many Ashkenazim also have other simanim, such as leeks, carrots and pomegranates). In most Iranian families, Rosh Hashanah simanim include the following foods, which are all preceded by a prayer beginning with Yehi Ratzon (“May it be Your will”), as each siman represents a different hope for the new year:

Cooked beets: These are a symbol of moving past our transgressions, and removing enemies from our midst. My mother boils chopped beets with a few teaspoons of sugar for a delicious sweetness.

Dates: These represent the demise of our enemies, though in America, my family still hasn’t found dates that compare with those in the Middle East.

Raw leeks: Iranians enjoy a paper-thin allium called “tareh” (broad leaf leek), and most bite it in half and throw the uneaten pieces over their shoulders to symbolize cutting off their enemies. Each year, my father forgets this practice and eats his enemies whole.

Sautéed or roasted squash: We ask that any evil decrees against us be ripped apart, and that our good deeds be “read” and recognized by God.

Pomegranate: This represents everything from fertility to performing numerous mitzvot throughout the year.

Apples and honey: These famous simanim symbolize a sweet new year.

Black-eyed peas: This dish represents fortune, fullness and abundance in the year ahead, especially for our merits.

Cow tongue: The tongue is cut into chunks because no one wants to stare at a whole, slumping bovine tongue served on a platter. It’s also often cooked with black-eyed peas, resulting in a mouth-watering dish that nevertheless makes children cringe.

READ:  Two former California police officers charged with vandalism for swastika spray painted on a car seat

Cow lung or anything “light and airy”: Cow lung can seldom be found in America, so many substitute it with popcorn to symbolize the hope for a light and carefree year.

If you’ve noticed, the dominant theme among the nine simanim focuses on defeating our enemies (or, at least, keeping them at bay). But in recent years, some Jews (especially those across different political aisles in America) have come to view one other as enemies.

Perhaps this year, we might consider our precious unity by not breaking those leeks, but rather, eating them whole and swallowing our pride.


Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer, speaker and civic action activist. Follow her on Twitter @RefaelTabby

 

The post The Wonder of a Persian Rosh Hashanah Seder appeared first on Jewish Journal.

Source: Jewish Journal https://jewishjournal.com/commentary/340244/the-wonder-of-a-persian-rosh-hashanah-seder/

Shares
Share This
Finance Advice 2021