Like so many others, I’ve always spent Rosh Hashanah with my family, but this year is, of course, different. Since leaving my home in Brooklyn in February, I’ve moved seven times with my husband and one-year-old son, Ezra—temporarily re-settling in Mallorca, where we had visited before but never dreamed of living until now. Being in a new environment with new people—and as a new mom setting the foundation for my own family’s traditions that we are creating as we go (I am Jewish and my husband is Chinese American)—I’m determined to create a special gathering.
And so, I’m hosting a Jewish holiday in a home I didn’t live in three weeks ago, with 10 friends I didn’t even know six months ago—oh, and 90% of my guests are not Jewish. That being said, our shared experience during these wild times has created such powerful connections that I already feel a deep sense of community here. Mallorca has also connected me to a global community of forgotten Jews, as thousands on the island were forced to convert to Catholicism or killed for their beliefs. To host a spiritually Jewish experience here feels empowering, like mending some of the turmoil of the past. So we can all share a piece of our history and where we come from, I asked everyone to bring a family heirloom that we can discuss around the table. Mine is my great grandfather’s pocket watch chain. (My jewelry line, Zahava, is centered around the idea of wearable heirlooms.)
Without any matriarchs around, I’m really stepping into the role—thanks to some virtual coaching from my Kabbalah teacher in New York and cooking tips from my mom over Zoom to ensure I nail my grandmother’s famous chicken Marbella. I’m also making honey roasted parsnips from my good friend Eden Grinshpan’s new cookbook Eating Out Loud, and an amazing baba ganoush (the secret: grill the eggplant for smokier flavor). I’ll bake challah from scratch, just like my grandfather did at his Jewish bakery in Detroit in the 1920s. (Pre-pandemic I never baked a thing, now I bake homemade challah most Fridays.)
Of course, I also had to plan for Covid-appropriate measures. We’re dining outside (surrounded by pomegranate and fig trees—the perks of being on a Balearic island) and I made simple updates that actually make the dinner feel personal and special, which can easily be recreated at home. Each guest will be given their own wood serving utensil and handmade linen mask. I’ll label wine glasses with colorful twine and provide hand sanitizer throughout the space.
As part of the table setting, each plate will have a slip of paper, a colored pencil, and a floating candle. Everyone can write down what they’d like to leave behind from this past year. Then we’ll light our candles and cast them off into the swimming pool. (Traditionally, you’d toss bread crumbs into a natural body of water, but you can get creative!)
Whether you practice Judaism or not, Rosh Hashanah offers several pearls of wisdom on how to embrace the new season with a renewed and abundant perspective. The Kabbalists believe it’s a time when we have the capacity to uproot negative seeds from past months and seasons to bring only good vibes into this New Year. I believe that wisdom and a deeper sense of self shine brighter when we take pride in embodying the strength of those who came before us. Shedding fears, doubts, and heartache, and getting a chance at a fresh start feel all too relevant in 2020—because we all need something hopeful and honey covered right about now. Here are some of the universal themes to integrate into your own dinner:
Tshuva (self-reflection): What baggage from this past year does not serve you any longer?
Tefillah (manifestation): It’s time to get specific about your dreams and goals for the coming year.
Tzedakah (gratitude and giving): Even in these trying times, let’s remember to always think about the needs of others.
Tashlikh: This is the tradition of throwing your “sins” into a body of water, so that you may start the New Year fresh.