Food | Home & Garden

Five hacks for the best Rosh Hashanah celebrations with family, friends

Traditional apples and honey dish on Rosh Hashanah table; apples and honey are traditionally eaten on the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah to symbolize wishes and prayers for sweetness in the new Jewish year, San Ramon, California, September 9, 2018. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

I can’t help but wonder why Hallmark and the retail world at large haven’t co-opted the Jewish New Year. True, while there may “only” be some 5 million to 7 million Jews in the U.S. (depending on who’s counting), Rosh Hashanah is a particularly important holiday on the Jewish calendar.

Many Jews spend Rosh Hashanah at synagogue immersed in prayer, self-reflection, repentance, kicking off 10 days of “awe.” But it’s a family holiday, too, usually celebrated at home with a big family dinner.

So why aren’t there any light-up shofars or tasteful Happy New Year banners to be found leading up to the big day?

Of course, depending on where you live, you may come across a dusty box of matzah on the shelf of your local grocery store in a well-intentioned, if misguided, attempt to acknowledge Rosh Hashanah (along with every other Jewish holiday).

But fear not. In lieu of tacky, ready-made accouterments, you can design your own Instagram-worthy Rosh Hashanah celebration. Keeping in mind that the goal is to create joy and lasting memories, I have tried and tested a few ideas to make your Rosh Hashanah celebration personal and memorable.

Conduct an apple and honey taste test

Not all apples — nor honey — are created equal. So here’s a fun way to see which varieties your family really prefers. Procure as many types of honey as you can (but remember, this is not a reality cooking show, so don’t go crazy). Put out a variety of sliced apples to dip and create your own voting method, too. For a bit of extra flair, add a blindfold. The honey with the most votes will receive the honor of the blessing for a sweet new year.

Create a Rosh Hashanah craft museum

Remember all those New Year’s crafts your kids brought home over the years from Sunday school or day school? It’s time to unearth those boxes filled with clay honey pots, handcrafted Happy New Year cards, and paper apple mobiles. Bonus if you can excavate the childhood Rosh Hashanah relics from your own youth. And if kids never made them — or you tossed them years ago — you can always make new Rosh Hashanah crafts, like a honey jar or a shofar. Cluster these items in a special museum-style display for all to enjoy. Heartstrings will be tugged, guaranteed.

Throw a birthday party for the world

Rosh Hashanah is not just a Jewish holiday — according to the Talmud, it is the birthday of humankind and the world. Considering that the universe is a pretty significant creation, some special treats to commemorate this day hardly seem like too much effort. Whether you celebrate with a spherical cake frosted to look like planet Earth or a candle on a single cupcake, or even just a Happy Birthday banner, let it spark a conversation about what each individual’s part can be in making the world a better place — the ultimate birthday gift.

Make a Rosh Hashanah tablescape

If you are overwhelmed just thinking about setting an elaborate table for the holiday, just remember that you are going to want to eat at some point, so it might as well be at a striking and impactfully set table. But that doesn’t mean an overwrought one. Small touches can go a long way, like an apple-print tablecloth; a few carefully placed honey or bee-themed items; a decorative tray filled with apples and pomegranates; a shofar as centerpiece. Tip: Use your imagination, not Google.

Spark meaningful conversation with reflection cards

Rosh Hashanah is a mini workout for the soul, so you should probably break an existential sweat self-reflecting, soul-searching and resolution-making. Like any good workout, it will transform, strengthen and fortify you for navigating your daily life in the year to come.

Write some open-ended questions on cardstock, and arrange them on your table for your family or friends to select and answer aloud. Some examples: What were your biggest mistakes over the last year? Greatest achievements? What brought you the most joy? Which moments felt deeply meaningful? What have you resolved to do differently next year?

What you write is up to you — just make sure that each question can be answered by a responder of any age, and keep in mind that Rosh Hashanah is not just about looking backward but is an opportunity to look forward as well.

I hope you will use one or all these ideas to set the stage for a sweet and meaningful New Year. And, full disclosure: While they are undoubtedly fun, none of these ideas will absolutely guarantee that you will be written in the Book of Life — but they may get you featured in Martha Stewart Living.

Beata Abraham, a lifelong writer and a Jewish educator, is currently the director of education at a Reform temple in Columbus, Ohio.