It’s traditional to begin the Rosh HaShana evening meal by eating a set of symbolic foods, each of which is a siman, sign, pointing to something we want. The first and best-known of these, apples and honey, is based on qualities of the food – goodness and sweetness. We’re hoping for a good and sweet new year ahead. Similarly, the simanim include a pomegranate, because we hope our merits will be as numerous as its seeds, and the head of a sheep or fish (in our case, a head of garlic), because we want to be ‘the head and not the tail’.
The other simanim are based on wordplays. For example, we eat gezer, which means both ‘carrot’ and ‘decree’, because we hope for good decrees in the new year, and we eat rubia, runner beans or black eyed peas, because we hope our merits will increase, yirbu.
The simanim that have been customary since medieval times focus on the harm we wish for our enemies and the good we want for ourselves. For several years now, I’ve created my own version of the simanim, changing the Hebrew slightly to emphasize actions (and attitudes) over actors — what we hate not who we hate — and offering a free English rendering that reflects some contemporary crises.
This year, as nations trample over nations, I’ve emphasized an end to warmongering. As the climate crisis escalates, I’ve emphasized the need for action. And as broadly united peoples split into hostile tribes, I’ve emphasized the importance of thinking rationally and rejecting prejudice.
If you’re interested, you can click this link for a pdf of my Rosh Hashana Simanim Renewed 5783 or download it here. (I’ve included the traditional simanim in case you want to see what you’re missing.)
May this year’s curses cease, and the New Year’s blessings begin!
!תִכְלֶה שָנָה וְקלְלותֶיה ותָחֵל שָנָה ובִרכותֶיה
And if you live in Jerusalem, maybe you’ve already ordered your simanim platter for the chag!