Sunday, September 25, 2005

180. Biryani

Musaf ended just fine, after a rocky start. Now we could eat. Rosh Hashonah has no ritual meal, like a Passover seder, but every single Jew in the world eats the same thing for dinner and then again, in the form of leftovers, for lunch: gefilte fish, chicken soup, and chicken. Vegetarians eliminate the chicken, but do keep matzah balls in the soup. Sephardim add olives. Your grandmother and other ambitious cooks also make a nice brisket. One can theoretically eat this food four times over the course of two days, except if you're Reform or Israeli and only celebrate one day of the holiday. (In the diaspora, before the age of mass communication, no one could be sure exactly when the sages of Jerusalem saw the new moon, which determined the start of the holiday. So we added a second day, just in case.)

In past years I enjoyed making holiday meals for friends, but knew that this time I wouldn't have the energy. In the weeks preceding the holiday I was also a bit verklempt, a little too out of it, to make any food-related plans. So I had invitations to peoples' homes for some of the meals, but not this first lunch. My niece, who's a few years younger than me and like a sister, had come to services that morning; not a member of the synagogue, she gamely waited on line for over an hour to get in. (I've always been uncomfortable with the tradition of selling tickets to High Holidays services, but the truth is that this money is the backbone of synagogue budgets. We call them "entrance cards," free of charge to all who've paid membership dues.)

We went back to my apartment and made kiddush--I did remember to get challah and wine--and then headed across the street to an Indian restaurant. You're not supposed to exchange money on Rosh Hashonah, which follows all the rules of Shabbat, but I sometimes choose to be a little looser with those particular guidelines. I was with people I loved, perhaps not following the letter of the law but certainly the spirit. (And I was far enough away from the synagogue to be sure I wouldn't run into someone I knew. I was a little conflicted about this. I felt that I needed to set a good example, after standing in front of the congregation, but also wanted to observe the holiday in a way that was comfortable and appropriate for me.) I'm sure the Jews of India were eating chicken biryani, as well.

My niece left after lunch and, still a bit shell-shocked, I sat staring into space for about an hour until R. arrived. R. is my best friend from childhood, and we had spent a few years attending High Holiday services together at her father's synagogue in Queens, a place so moribund that I was surprised the congregation was still breathing by the end of the service. R. came to join me for the ritual of tashlikh, the casting of bread into the water as we symbolically discarded our sins for the year. With a brief stop to catch the end of a teaching at the synagogue, we headed to Riverside Park to join a few thousand other Jews and their leftover challah.


Someone sent me this nice little movie that captures the spirit of the holiday quite well. I also ran across this stream-of-consciousness guideline about how to be a cantor by your bootstraps (scroll down to the middle of the page). I had to laugh at this line: "Ideally, you are not starting out doing a full-fledged High Holiday service from beginning to end in front of several hundred people."

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