How I Observed the Jewish New Year from Home

Tuesday, September 22, 2020


Like everything else about 2020, this year's Jewish High Holidays look considerably different than in years past. Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish new year, was observed last Friday/Saturday, & while I would typically have spent the day in synagogue, this year I, like millions of Jews worldwide, had to get a little creative.

My day job working with ReformJudaism.org means I have a lot of easy access to & knowledge of Jewish resources – finding synagogues, figuring out which prayers to recite, identifying tasty recipes. Leaning on some of the content I've recently created or helped promote for work, Mike & I cobbled together a really nice little new year's celebration for ourselves. Here's what it entailed. 


I cooked traditional Jewish foods.

Jewish holiday always begin at sundown & run through sundown on whatever day they end. (Most Reform Jews celebrate on full day of Rosh HaShanah, while other Jews observe two.) On Friday night, Erev Rosh HaShanah, I made two dishes from ReformJudaism.org's holiday recipes.

The first was Roasted Butternut Squash with Apples & Onions, which wasn't quite as flavorful as I'd hoped but still really good. I loved the addition of fresh thyme! On the right is Moroccan Sweet Couscous with Mixed Dried Fruits, which was so good that it was almost dessert-like. I used golden raisins & crushed apple chips, with dates & dried apricots as garnish. 

I also made a tradition round challah, but I underbaked it... so after eating the crispy outsides, we had to toss the rest! 


I snacked on "new fruits" while I prepared. 

On Rosh HaShanah, it's customary to eat "new fruits," those we've never had or just haven't had in awhile. While at West Side Market buying dinner supplies, I also bought fresh figs (which, fine, we also had two weeks ago), plus dried papaya & kiwi (love both of them but haven't had them forever!) & rambutans, a brand-new-to-me fruit that tasted a lot like lychee. 

We lit Shabbat candles & dipped apples in honey.

One of the primary Ashkenazi Rosh HaShanah traditions is to dip apples in honey to represent our hope for a sweet new year, which we did. So many sweet foods! Because Erev Rosh HaShanah fell on Shabbat this year, we also lit the Shabbat candles, using the silver candlestick holders I received for my bat mitzvah. 


I turned my desk into a sanctuary space.

I was inspired by this piece called "How to Turn Your Home into a Sanctuary for the High Holidays," which shares suggestions for "[creating] a sacred space at home while we are in front of our computers." I draped my tallit (prayer shawl) & a plain cheesecloth over my dual monitors & brought in the Shabbat candles, plus a little succulent, a honeycomb-shaped candle, & two of my favorite pieces of beach glass.

I watched services online.

I wasn't sure which synagogue's services to watch, as I'm not currently a member anywhere. I decided to watch the stream from B'nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim, a Chicago-area congregation where my friend & former roommate Jason is one of the rabbis. In these strange times, it was such a blessing to be able to choose exactly which rabbinic voice I wanted to hear to guide me into the new year. 


...& we ate an incredible Rosh HaShanah cheeseboard!

On Saturday night, inspired by my friend & coworker Paige of @PaigePlates, I tried my hand at a cheeseboard based on the suggestions she shared in "How to Make the Perfect Rosh HaShanah Cheeseboard." The best part, hands down, was the honeycomb, which I'm holding in the photo at the top of this post. Have you ever had it? It's chewy & sweet & oozing with honey. The whole thing is entirely edible! 

I also made a small, separate board with some meats & jams on it. Many Jews keep kosher or, at the very least, don't mix milk & meat, & while I don't keep any such dietary restrictions, I didn't want to put them all on the same board, out of general respect for tradition. I put the crackers on a separate board, too, because I ran out of space on this one. 

But let's just say that it was absolutely an entire meal's worth of food. Mike & I destroyed this board & the other two while watching the end of season three of The Wire!

Have you celebrated any holidays from home during the pandemic? How did you change things up from your usual customs?

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