Having left all our family back in North America, this year was the first time we spent Rosh Hashanah alone. In fact, we were very alone as the country again headed into lockdown.
During the last days of Elul, I was worried that without family, friends, or even shul, the chag would be empty, lonely, and – honestly – even boring for the kids. As I began stocking our home for the lockdown (batteries, shelf-stable milk, bread, diapers, and lots of snacks), I racked my brains for ways to make Rosh Hashanah special.
I unpacked our collection of Rosh Hashanah kids books (and even purchased a new one in Hebrew) and picked up a new Lego set for the kids (best lockdown activity ever). I ordered honey cake from our favorite bakery and pomegranates (our favorite Israeli fruit) from the fruit store. What more could I do?
Browsing through Facebook, an odd request kept popping up in my Israeli groups. Everyone seemed to be searching for black-eyed peas. Intrigued, I inquired why these were so popular (though apparently difficult to find). I learned that black-eyed peas (or “rubia” in Arabic) are a popular element of the custom here in Israel to have a Simanim Seder – a meal of foods that symbolize hopes and prayers for the new year.
(The Arabic “rubia” resembles the Hebrew “yirbu” – to increase. Eating these beans is supposed to symbolize a desire that our merits increase in the new year.)
The concept of simanim was certainly not new to me – we always had apples and honey at home, and my in-laws even serve fish heads. But the Simanim Seder (apparently originally a Sefardi custom, but widely practiced here in Israel) is actually an entire meal of simanim served prior to the first Rosh Hashanah dinner.
During the pre-lockdown chaos, my son and I had fun researching different simanim and looking for our own kid-friendly twist on them (no real fish heads here – but we did get heads of gummy sharks! and instead of fresh dates, we bought yummy date bars!). My son also learned in school that cola could be drunk as a symbol that Hashem should listen to kol bakashosanu – the sound of our requests.
On Rosh Hashanah, the Simanim Seder was such a hit, we found ourselves still discussing the possible meanings of foods once the regular Yom Tov meal began.
While my children and I did not attend shul this year (my husband attended a very small, very early morning minyan), we did manage to have a special davening experience. With the streets eerily deserted, we walked to a park (within the one-kilometer distance permitted under the lockdown). There, my son and I sat on swings and davened. While I am no chasid, davening in an empty park – surrounded by grass, trees, and birds (and perhaps a few cats) – was something of a hitbodidut experience.
Thankfully, we were able to hear the shofar. In an effort to ensure that all residents could fulfill the mitzvah of the day, the Modiin municipality arranged for there to be shofar blowings in parks all over the city. Additionally, local synagogues set up shofar blowings in parking lots and on street corners so congregants who were in bidud (quarantine) could hear the shofar as well.
The result was an endless chorus of shofar blowings throughout the day, many of which could be heard as we sat locked away in our apartment. I think we far exceeded our requirement to hear 100 blasts this year!
An unexpected addition to our holiday came courtesy of Kehilat Shimshoni, our local shul. As part of a sweet holiday gift bag, the shul provided us with a compilation of Hebrew folk songs. When we had exhausted our renditions of “Dip the Apple in the Honey,” we found ourselves reading through the lyrics of these songs.
While the songs were mostly written during tumultuous times of war here in Israel, their messages of hope and renewal were perfect for Rosh Hashanah. As we sat around the table, we taught our son the refrain for the song B’shana Habah (“Next Year”) by Ehud Manor.
“Od ti’re, od ti’re, kama tov yihye, bashana, bashana haba’a.” (You will see, you will see, how good it will be, next year, next year.)
This past year has been tumultuous, to say the least. While we fulfilled our life-long dream of moving to Israel, its joy was diminished by the horrific virus and its impact on friends and family around the world. It is our fervent prayer that we will indeed all see how good it will be this coming year.