This Sunday, we went Rosh Hashanah shopping. Here is how it happened:
I came home from morning services with Y. (No, Y doesn’t normally go to services with me, but on Sundays the kids take turns accompanying me. This was his week. Y woke up a little after six and asked me if it was time yet. I told him that he had another hour and a half to sleep, but he wasn’t impressed. He went and got himself dressed, and sat outside on the porch.)
After we all had a good second breakfast of eggs and bagels, I bundled the three kids into our giant stroller. It has two seats and a “buggy board,” which allows a third passenger to ride from behind. R decided to take along her pink backpack. She stuck a rattle into one of the pockets. I am not sure why, but I think it was in lieu of a cell phone. With all arms and legs safely inside, we were off!
I had a short mental list of things we needed. On Rosh Hashanah, we eat symbolic foods representing our wishes for the new year. It was these symbolic items that we were after.
Our first stop was the fish store. It is pretty smelly in there, but none of the kids complained. On the first night of Rosh Hashanah we eat the head of a fish, asking G‑d that in the coming year we be “a head and not a tail.” (There are some people who actually use the head of a ram. That is not our custom, and I am fine with it. Fish heads are intense enough for me.) The fishmonger was ready. Right near the counter, there was a giant bin full of heads in plastic bags. I selected a salmon that looked nice and pink, and took it to the checkout. It was free, and we gratefully walked away with one salmon head in R’s backpack. (We triple-bagged it, because you can never be too sure about fish heads.)
Our next stop was the Judaica store next door. We didn’t actually need anything there, but the owner is a buddy of mine, and I wanted to say hello. Right in the front, they had some beautiful honey dishes on display. On the first night of Rosh Hashanah, we dip apples (and our challah bread) into honey, expressing our wish for a good, sweet new year—and the Judaica industry has fully capitalized on the fact that honey cannot be neatly served on a napkin, thus materializing their wish for a good, lucrative new year. R ran from dish to dish, lifting their lids, admiring the delicate little spoons and otherwise giving me reason to fear that we would be going home with a broken dish and a little less cash. She wanted to buy them all, or at least one. I reminded her that we didn’t need a honey dish, because she was making one in school. Satisfied, she joined us as we admired the shofars on display.
Right next door, there is a little fruit store. I poked my head in and asked the owner if they had any pomegranates. Rosh Hashanah is really early this year, and we did not know if they were in season yet. He told us that he had them “and all the other fruit you need for your holiday.” We came in and followed him to the shelf where he had a carton of Israeli and American pomegranates.
I’m sure he thought we would go for the Israeli ones (they were double the price). And he would generally be right; we jump at the opportunity to support our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land. But produce is unique. We preferred the American ones, because there are all kinds of halachic issues related to fruit from Israel. Produce grown there must be tithed, and the fruit bore no label stating that the tithes had been properly taken.
We picked out two juicy pomegranates (just in case one of them turns out to be a lemon) to express our wishes that our merits be as numerous as the seeds of the pomegranate.
On our way out, we remembered that we needed a new fruit. A new fruit? No, not a fresh fruit. A fruit that is new to us, one we had not eaten since last time it was in season. Why do we need a new fruit? Actually, it is not to symbolize our wishes for a new year. The reason is more technical than that.
Rosh Hashanah is two days long. On the first night, we say the Shehecheyanu blessing, in which we thank G‑d for enabling us to celebrate this holiday. We say this same blessing over other milestones, like new clothing or a fruit that just came into season. Now, the two days of Rosh Hashanah are considered to be one elongated day. As such, some suggest that on the second day of Rosh Hashanah the holiday is no longer new, and it does not warrant a blessing. Others say that the second day is really a valid holiday on its own, and the blessing is in order. The halachah follows the second approach. Nevertheless, in order to satisfy the first opinion, we have a new fruit on the table and have in mind that blessing is over the fruit as well—just to cover all the bases. (Note: This is a very complex subject, and I just presented the Cliff’s Notes. You can read all about in in the Code of Jewish Law, chapter 600. Also note that this means that the symbolic stuff—other than challah and honey, which we eat until Hoshana Rabbah–is for the first night of the holiday, and the new fruit is for the second night.)
So, which fruits had we not eaten all season? Hard to say, since we all eat different things. Safest thing to do is to have an unusual fruit that none of us had. Our friend the fruit seller directed us to some delicious-looking Israeli star fruit. Those were not going to do, so we asked again, and he showed us some prickly-looking fruit. A nice Moroccan Jewish lady who was in the store to see if he had truffles (did you know that Moroccans eat truffles on Rosh Hashanah?) showed me how to cut it open. We took two, and were on our way home.
And with that we came home, and deposited the fruit in the fridge and the fish head in the freezer.
We will eat the fruit with gusto, and I am still gathering the courage to pick at the fish head—and I am pretty sure that I will be the only one in our family. Something about those glassy eyes just creeps me out. So, I guess I will just shut my own eyes, and eat a bit of flesh far from the fish’s. Ram head, anyone?