A Rosh Hashana Seder
10:04 a.m. EDT, August 29, 2013
Every year on Rosh Hashana, Rabbi Joseph Korkos and his wife, Orli, host a few dozen friends to a Seder in their Boca Raton home.
The rabbi, who is of Middle Eastern, or Sephardic, descent, serves the traditional apples and honey to usher in a sweet year and a round challah to mark the cyclical nature of the holiday.
But unlike the East European, or Ashkenazy, Jews who predominate in the U.S., he sets out additional fruits and vegetables that symbolize the community's wishes for the coming year.
Recipe: Ma'amoul (Date shortbread cookies)
Recipe: Moroccan fish
Recipe: Leek patties
A seder meal including beets, sweet potato, beans, cabbage as well as dates. Sephardic Jews, like Rabbi Joseph Korkos of Boca Raton and wife, Orli, mark the Jewish New Year with a Seder.
A seder meal including starfruit, apples and grapes.
"The Rosh Hashana Seder runs for 15 to 20 minutes before the traditional washing of the hands and is common in Israel among the Sephardic Jews," says Korkos, adding that the word "Seder" refers to the order of the meal. "What's different from the Passover Seder is that this is basically a series of blessings rather than the telling of a story."
On Passover, Jews retell the tale of their ancestor's exodus from Egypt. Rosh Hashana is different.
Many of the foods served at Korkos’ Seder in Boca Raton date back to ancient laws.
Those laws instruct Jews to eat certain foods because their Hebrew names are similar to words that convey Jewish peoples' desire for forgiveness and protection from enemies.
Dates are served, for example, because tamri, the Aramaic word for date, sounds like the Hebrew term for removing. It is eaten after a prayer that calls for removing enemies from one’s midst. The Hebrew name for beets resembles the word for casting away —- as in adversaries — and the word for leek sounds like the Hebrew term for cutting down.
There are still more foods. The word for gourd is related to the term for ripping up, as in your record of bad deeds, and the Hebrew name for fenugreek (green beans are often substituted) sounds like the word for increase, as in increasing your merits.
During the Rosh Hashana meal, each item is eaten in a set sequence following a prayer that refers to its symbolic meaning.
One of Korkos’ favorite Rosh Hashana dishes is Moroccan fish. Traditionally, it's served whole with its head intact to symbolize the Jewish people’s hope that their nation be at the head, rather than the tail, of countries. He makes fillets because they're easier to serve. Another Rosh Hashana favorite is Ma'amoul, a traditional Middle Eastern short bread cookie filled with dates and dusted with confectioners' sugar.
“We also serve a fruit that we haven’t had all year so that it’s special, then say a blessing that thanks God for keeping us alive another year to eat it,” says Korkos, who leads a local chavurah or community of Jews called Maor David Jerusalem. (More information at MaorDavid.org.) Most of the time he serves a star fruit from his back yard.
This is in addition to pomegranates eaten during the meal. This fruit, according to Jewish folklore, has 613 seeds, the number of good deeds a religious person strives to perform.
Rabbi Eliot H. Pearlson of Temple Menorah on Miami Beach, a traditional congregation, notes that Ashkenazi members of his synagogue follow the tradition of eating the same foods and saying the same prayers as the member's of Korkos' group. But they don’t call their meal a Seder.
“It’s a beautiful way to manifest Rosh Hashana,” says Pearlson, “a way to turn the meal into a spiritual event.”
Copyright © 2013, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Yosef Korkos March 2013
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