As the sun sets on Sunday, September 15, Jewish families all over the world will begin to observe the New Year, Rosh Hashonah and the year 5773. They will participate in rituals that for hundreds of generations have promised a good and sweet year ahead. In addition to the two days of Rosh Hashonah prayers, the blowing of the shofar or ram’s horn, and customary exchanges of greetings, wishing each other “Shanah tovah” (a good year), there will be honey cake and apples dipped in honey.
As all the children of the Chabad Hebrew School and their parents and grandparents recently discovered, honey plays a major role when a New Year is celebrated. Bringing faith alive is something Chabad does very well, and this holiday is no exception as Rabbi Fishel Zaklos introduced visiting RabbiShmuli Gutnick accompanied by his living honey bee workshop with all its relevant paraphernalia.
Every custom and tradition became a living lesson, as Rabbi Gutnick first of all reminded the children of how the sounds from the shofar can remind people of a crying baby, and held their attention with what seemed like the ability to blow an most endless blast.
Some of the other symbols of the New Year he presented were the round challah (bread) with raisins for a perfect and sweet year; a pomegranate with its 613 seeds, a reminder of the 613 commandments; carrots to make a sweet pudding called atzimmes.
Rabbi Gutnick then taught them about the life and history of honey bees, and how a non-kosher insect can produce a kosher product like honey. Honey, he said, consists of nectar which bees gather,store and transport to their honeycombs. While in the bee, the nectar is broken down and transformed into honey by enzymes in the bee, but it is not actually digested by the bee. Honey is not a product of the bee itself, like milk. One hundred percent pure, raw honey is kosher.
With eager volunteer assistants from the audience Rabbi Gutnick demonstrated how honey bees collect nectar and pollen which they store as honey in the hive. He took one dormant hive apart to show the racks on which the beeswax and honeycomb are produced and where the bees’ eggs are laid, passing around samples of beeswax for everyone to examine. He produced a hive of live bees and encouraged the children to listen closely to the sounds which resembled a busy buzzing highway.
A queen bee, whosejob it is to have babies, can live for five years and produce from 1,000 to 2,000 eggs in one day, he said. Of the 100,000 bees in a hive, he identified 98,000 as workers (like the busy mothers) and the rest as drones, who, “Lie around watching TV”. He said the average worker lives only 45 days and make 1.5 ounces of honey, which explains why it is so expensive.
After helping to churn a large vat of honey, the children made honey pot holders and each was given a pot of the sweet stuff to sample and take home.
A recipe for traditional Honey Cake follows.
Yom Kippur begins ten days after Rosh Hashonah, September 26, at sundown.
On the day before Yom Kippur, some people perform a ceremony know as Kapporot, followed by acts of charity. Itis considered a blessing to be able to eat well before Yom Kippur, to prepare for the twenty-four hour fast day. Fasting’s purpose is to purify one’s thoughts and increase the intensity of one’s repentance. It is a day of serious contemplation and self-examination.
The very moving but unusual Kol Nidre prayer is chanted, asking God not to take into account any vows that are made: a total annulment of vows made to oneself. During Yom Kippur, which begins on Tuesday, September 25 at sundown, one asks God for atonement, the expiation of sin on the part of the sinner, and pardon, the forgiveness of sin.
Yom Kippur services conclude at sundown, with a single blast of the shofar. Upon leaving the synagogue, one hears the greeting: “L’shana ha-ba-a b’Yerushalayim!” (Next year in Jerusalem) to which the persongreeted replies, “Amen!”
Everyone then shares a light form of refreshment, to “break the fast,” hoping to be inscribed in the book of life for yet another year.
Traditional Honey Chiffon Cake
1 cup sugar
1 cup oil
1 lb. (1 1/2 cups) liquid honey
1 cup cold coffee or (black) tea
3 tsp. Baking powder
1/2 tsp. Baking soda
3 cups flour
1/2 cup nuts (optional)
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
Beat eggs and sugar. Add oil and honey and blend well. Combine dry ingredients and combine alternately with liquid. Stir in nuts and raisins.
Pour into an ungreased 10” tube pan. Bake at 350º for 15 minutes; reduce heat and bake at 300º for 1 hour.
When cake is done, cool 15 minutes. Then invert and cool completely before removing from pan.
For information about High Holiday services, please contact Chabad of Naples Jewish Community Center, 1789 Mandarin Road, Naples, FL 34102. 239-262-4474 or www.ChabadNaples.com