The Sweetness of a New Year

Posted on August 6th, 2018 by

A blog post by JMM Office Manager and Shop Assistant Jessica Konigsberg. For more posts from Jessica, click HERE.

As the fall Jewish holidays approach, Esther’s Place is gradually transforming its displays to feature beautiful Kiddush cup-candleholder sets, Rosh Hashanah educational toys, shofars, honey pots, and decorative challah covers. As I plan these displays, I’m also exploring and learning about the holidays for the first time.

The first of the upcoming holidays is Rosh Hashanah, a two-day holiday marking the Jewish New Year and starting on the first day of the Hebrew month Tishrei (in 2018, it begins at sundown on September 9). Rosh Hashanah seems like a good place to begin my education because the concept of a New Year is both joyous and relatable; while the specifics of Rosh Hashanah may be unfamiliar to me, the basic process of reflecting on a year lived and looking ahead to the coming year is personally and universally powerful.

Unsurprisingly, as JMM shop assistant, I’m particularly intrigued by the food and the rituals. I learn that at Rosh Hashanah, the challah (bread) is baked in a round shape to symbolize the continuous cycle of life and dipped in honey to express hope for a sweet New Year. The ritual blowing of the shofar (the hollowed horn of a kosher animal) during prayers also speaks to themes of continuity and renewal. Rosh Hashanah is an opportunity for atonement and reflection.

Our burgeoning shofar display at Esther’s Place.

Reflecting on this, I recall my own childhood spent celebrating Chinese New Year (also known as Lunar New Year) with my immediate family, my childhood hometown’s local Chinese Association, and frequently, my aunts and grandma from Malaysia—who often visited at this time of year.

Chinese New Year for my family always included a “steamboat” meal. Steamboat is similar to fondue, where a hot soup is heated in the central steamboat vessel while those around the table dip and cook various chosen morsels of meat, vegetables, and seafood. Though I never knew the reason for our steamboat tradition at the time, a quick Google search taught me that the steamboat’s round shape symbolizes “reunion” and marks the togetherness of the holiday—a nice parallel to Rosh Hashanah’s round challah and similar emphasis on the family meal.

Another Chinese New Year’s tradition for me was the exchange of “red packets”—money-stuffed envelopes traditionally gifted to the children of the family; yes, it’s a great time of year to be young. My brothers and I would approach our elders and then say a customary Mandarin phrase that basically means: “Happy New Year. Give me the red packet.” Chinese New Year would come to mean a time of extra pocket money and big plans.

Red packet time with my family.

My family would also join local Chinese New Year celebrations organized by the Chinese Association. And frequently, my brother Andrew and I would participate in the festival’s lion dance (pictured below). The festival typically concluded with a deafening firecracker display—a spectacle that filled me with both delight and dread as a young child.

A lion dance performance captured in my family album.

After reflecting on my Chinese New Year memories, I realized the best way to learn is through experience. So this year, I’ll enrich my Jewish education by joining my in-laws’ Rosh Hashanah service at Temple B’nai Shalom in Virginia. I hope this will expand my understanding of the High Holidays as well as deepen my growing personal connection to Judaism.

New Year’s celebrations often bring introspection and restoration—as well as the chance to refresh one’s physical space or holiday supplies. Rituals and ritual objects are so much a part of any holiday and truly help create a home or community. Whether you’re looking for beauty and uniqueness or simplicity and utility, we likely have a great option for you at Esther’s Place, and these are just some of the highlights!

Whatever your own connection to “new year,” I hope that Esther’s Place will evoke for you those special New Year’s feelings of reflection, hope, and sweetness. And if it’s time to update your ritual items, I hope you’ll stop by Esther’s Place and find out what we have to offer.

 

 

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Love People: Cook Them Tasty Food

Posted on January 23rd, 2012 by

A blog post by Development Coordinator Amy Smith

It is no secret that Jews love Chinese food.  Having missed our December 25th program: Chanukah, Christmas, and Everything Chinese, where visitors played mah-jong, made origami, and enjoyed Chinese food while exploring Chosen Food, I was determined to eat Chinese food on Christmas Day.  This turned out to be an easy task in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania, where my husband and I spent Christmas Day with his family.

My husband’s cousin and my mother-in-law at Shangri-La Inn, in Bala Cynwyd, PA on Christmas Day.

From family gatherings in Philadelphia, to endless dinners with friends in Baltimore, by mid-January, I had thought that my holiday eating spree was finally coming to an end.  That’s when my friend/former bridesmaid, Lingsheng, told me she  planned to host a potluck for the Chinese New Year.  Knowing nothing about the traditions surrounding the Chinese New Year, I immediately jumped onto Wikipedia and learned that January 23, 2012 begins the year of the Dragon (I was born in the year of the Rabbit). Find out what year you were born in here: http:///www.astrology.com/chinese-astrology 

Though the potluck was in celebration of the upcoming Chinese New Year, guests were told that we did not have to cook Chinese food.  When we got there, there was an impressive array of international dishes, from vegetarian and chicken fried rice to Japanese tofu curry to penne with fresh mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes.

Chinese New Year potluck on January 21, 2012 at the apartment of Lingsheng Li.

Like many parties, the evening consisted of schmoozing with friends, eating and drinking good food, and playing games. However, a few elements made this celebration different from others.  First, guests were encouraged to wear red, a color that is supposed to ward off bad fortune.  Second, the hosts served tangerines for dessert, a symbol of luck.  And finally, guests were given red packets filled with candy as a party favor.

Party guests wear red to scare away evil spirits.

Mandarin oranges or tangerines are served during the Chinese New Year, as they symbolize luck.

 

Red envelopes filled with money are typically given to children.

While I chatted with Lingsheng in the kitchen, a sticker on her wall caught my eye.  It said – “Love People: Cook them tasty food.”  As I think back on all the holiday meals with family and friends, I realize this is the element that ties them all together.  In both the Chinese and Jewish traditions, food is an expression of love.  And in our case, food crosses cultural boundaries and has the ability to bring people together.

Lingsheng cooking fried rice in her kitchen.

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