Symbols for a New Year

Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, is coming upon us in a few weeks. As I’m a visual person, I love the tangibles in Jewish holidays: on Sukkot, I enjoy decorating my Sukkah. On Purim, my kids and I decorate our mishloach manot. On the Passover, I’ve enjoyed creating place mats with my kids for the Seder table. On Rosh Hashana we have these food items called “simanim”, meaning symbols. Each “siman” is a symbol for prosperity in the year to come. By sampling these foods that have positive connotations through a pun, we come up with a new hope for prosperity with each food.

My plan for the next few weeks is to do a post on each of the simanim (that I can find). If you know of others, please share in the comments! Here’s my list:

Food Hebrew Word Expression
Beet selek=remove “may our adversaries be removed”
Gourd, squash, pumpkin k’ra=proclaim or tear “our merits proclaimed” or “decrees torn up”
Pomegranate rimon “may our merits increase as (the seeds of) a pomegranate
Black-eyed peas rubia=increase “may our merits increase”
Leeks karti =severed “may our enemies cease to be”
Carrots gezer=gezairah=decree “may our enemies be consumed”
Dates tamar=sounds like yitmu “may our enemies be consumed”
Fish head, sheep head, or head of lettuce Rosh=”head” we should be as the head, not the tail

There’s the traditional apples and honey, for a sweet new year, but I’m not sure of the pun here.

Here’s one Ilana-Davita sent me, that puns in Yiddish:

Another custom is to eat tzimmis. Tzimmis is made out of carrot, which in
Yiddish is called “meren,” which is a homonym with the Yiddish word “merin,”
which means “increase.”

Another Yiddish one: Some people eat “farfel,” which sounds like the Yiddish word “farfalen,” which means “thwarted,” so we pray: May it be Your will, Hashem our G-d and G-d of our forefathers, that all our enemies’ be thwarted.

Here’s a new one, with the pun being in English:
Celery with raisins for “a raise in salary”.

My plan is to depict each one of the simanim (or most or many of them) over the next few weeks. I might do a photograph or a watercolor or some other creative way of showing the food. I’ll start with my beet leaf, since I already did one of those:
beet leaf

So, which next? A gourd, a fish head, a carrot? Anyone got a preference?
(Thank you to Ilana-Davita for her help with this post.).

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20 thoughts on “Symbols for a New Year

  • I see what you mean about the layout.I think it’s the grid that spoils the overall effect.
    I’d vote for pomegranate; they have a lovely shape and a pretty color and, for me, really symbolize Rosh Hashanah.

  • Judi, glad you read this post, and I’m already thinking about carrots and how the top of a carrot might look in a watercolor.

    Ilana-Davita, I’ll play with the layout. A pomegranate was featured on a U.S. stamp for a postcard. I was so excited in the post office!

  • The English siman I know wraps celery in lettuce and puts raisin inside the celery stalk. We say “Lettuce have a raisin our celery”. Just slightly more elaborate than the one you describe.

    Also, since many of my friends are grossed out by animal heads, the user the heads off of gummi animals instead.

  • Larry, I’m going to have fun with the heads when I get up to that one. Thanks for the chopping off heads idea. I’ll have to consult with my kids for inspiration. Maybe animal crackers?

  • Hallo Leora, thank you for visiting my blog! I also love autumn although I am a little sad that summer is over, at first. But then autumn is so warm and golden and the colours are so beautiful that I enjoy it very much. Every season is beautiful in its own way.
    I think I got it right that you painted that leave yourself? It is very very beautiful and I love the gentle colours very much.
    I am not a great painter myself, but once a year I paint a little flower or so. Maybe I should also post one of my pictures.
    Anyway, I wish you a nice week and I am looking forward to see your next painting!
    Kind regards, Maria

  • triLcat, adorable little video! Maybe I’ll use it in my head post. I think I’ll do that one last, right before Rosh Hashana.

    Maria, yes, I did the beet leaf watercolor a few weeks ago. I’m now into painting food quickly (and then some day I’ll do portraiture in oils again, which takes weeks or months).

  • The Artscroll Machzor lists a bunch of simanim. Our favorite is the fish heads. I buy them because it totally grosses out my kids and every year we have fun with that (especially if an eyeball pops out. When they were little we would tell them they have to take a little taste to have a good year, but they don’t buy that anymore.

    Good post.

  • Many Ashkenazim don’t eat nuts on Rosh Hashanah because they leave a bitter aftertaste and we don’t want any bitterness in the new year.
    And don’t forget the round raisin challahs!

  • what a great list. thanks for sharing it…i don’t get to cook yomtov (working) and i definitely don’t think about doing this stuff with my kids. but i think i’m going to do it over the week before, different foods each day….i do love the holidays;-)

  • Raizy, thanks for the reminders about the No Nuts (because when the gematria of het(sin)=egoz(nuts), though as I recall the gematria gets tricky) and the round challahs.

    Phyllis, yes, chopping of the heads of gummy bears sounds interesting for kids, no?

    Batya, what does a fruit head look like? Sounds yummy, tastier than chopping off the head of a gummy bear.

  • I was just looking at a cookbbok for Rosh hashanah recipes and found one more example of a siman:
    – In Syria the date is (was) replaced by a broadbean (pul and the “blessing” is “may our enemies fall” (yepulu)

  • Leora, I really enjoyed this lesson and your beautiful watercolor beet leaf! I especially like the “Lettuce have a raisin our celery”. This is all new info. for me. I’ll make this one first!

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