As someone who loves celebrating Rosh HaShanah, is a culinary aficionado and has a penchant for words and puns, the tradition of the Rosh HaShanah Seder has always been a favorite in our home. For those who are less familiar, the Rosh HaShanah Seder consists of symbolic foods (Simanim) representing myriad blessings and hopes for the New Year. Yes, apples and honey are included; but the Seder and its Simanim go far beyond the purely traditional. We often ask our children and guests to bring symbolic foods for the meal, and have incorporated everything from schnitzel and eggplant, to gummy bears and chocolate kisses in our holiday feasts – always with the utmost intentionality and meaning, and no shortage of fun.
Given this family background, you can imagine my excitement when my organization, Kol HaOt, was approached by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation with the challenge of creating a new and innovative formula to teach young Jews about the lesser-known holiday tradition of the Rosh HaShanah Seder. They needed a format that would be accessible to people in their twenties and thirties, would provide them with the tools to host a Rosh HaShanah gathering on their own, and could be reproduced locally with ease. Since Kol HaOt specializes in using the arts as a vehicle for Jewish engagement and education, we felt that this project was right up our alley and accepted the challenge.
With great enthusiasm, we delved into the sources of the tradition of the Rosh HaShanah Seder, researching the ways it was observed throughout the world over hundreds of years. We loved that this particular tradition was inherently tied to food (what better way to engage Jews of any age than through their appetites?), and appreciated the fact that while the Seder and Simanim are age-old customs, they leave ample room for creativity and individuality; in fact, they practically scream for it. Thus, while it was imperative to keep the Simanim tradition and history alive, we also saw great potential for a modern twist: just as Jews did of old, contemporary Jews, no matter where they lived, could use their imaginations and local dialects to invent new word plays that would reflect both the culinary traditions of their host communities, as well as their innermost hopes, prayers and blessings for the upcoming year. To jumpstart the creative process, we launched an online social media campaign to crowd source original food-blessing puns. Our hashtag of choice: #applesandpunny.
Through the collective efforts of a team of talented writers, poets and artists, we produced a modernized version of the Rosh HaShanah Seder, complete with its own Haggadah (modeled off of the Haggadah of the better-known Passover Seder), Host Guide, center pieces, place mats, discussion starters and more. The downloadable kit addresses multiple senses, creating the most dynamic Rosh HaShanah experience possible for both host and guests, and its introductory chapters are available in English, Hebrew, Russian and Spanish, reflecting the global reach we hope it will achieve. Drawing on the themes of self-reflection, change and improvement that are central to this holiday, we even included an original Rosh HaShanah version of the Four Children of Passover parable. The story represents four different attitudes toward the constructive self-change that Rosh HaShanah demands of every one of us, and provides follow-up questions for guided table-talk on the interactive reading afterwards.
Ultimately, we aspire that these beautiful, informative and fun materials will help young Jews across the globe facilitate content-based, meaningful and relevant Rosh HaShanah experiences for themselves and their peers, this year and in years to come. In an age when the world often seems so full of violence and hatred, let our Rosh HaShanah kit provide one fun and joyful platform for all of us to bestow thoughtful blessings upon our friends and neighbors. To borrow a bit more Passover terminology, let’s invite “all who are hungry to come and eat!”
As we move into the new year of 5775, my team at Kol HaOt and I look forward to continued opportunities to create inspiring, creative and beautiful formats that engage people with our ancient Jewish traditions.
Want to download a Rosh HaShanah kit of your own? Thanks to the generosity of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, this entire resource is available for free online. All of the components come with easy-to-follow, standard printing instructions: simply send the files to your local printing station (e.g. Kinko’s), and voila! You’re all set.
Download the Rosh HaShanah kit here.
Elyssa Moss Rabinowitz is a co-founder and the Executive Director of Kol HaOt – Illuminating Jewish Life through Art.