The Jew And The Carrot

A Different Taste of Time

By Ilana Cohen

  • Print
  • Share Share
Photo By Ilana Cohen
In my family, as in many others, certain recipes and treats always accompany holidays, helping to mark them as special and separate from the rest of the year. We all love the apple cake my mom makes (the only ‘secret recipe’ we have in our family which has been passed down from my great-grandmother), but we only have it on Rosh Hashanah. Another unique Rosh Hashanah treat is a pomegranate, and my family likes to incorporate them into our Thanksgiving and New Years celebrations as well. My sister is an olive aficionado, yet we only break them out for Shabbat dinners.

There are many foods and dishes that help define the space of a holiday—that help to give the celebration many layers of sensory textures. Because of that relationship, such foods sometimes turn into a symbol of the holiday and carry memories and connotations whenever they appear in a grocery store or meal.

I found myself experiencing such memories and longing for familiar flavors as I celebrated the High Holidays this past fall in Tamil Nadu, Southern India, while studying abroad for the semester. I was living in Auroville, an international city/eco-village near Pondicherry, and the food was incredible: locally grown, organic, primarily vegan, and brimming with all sorts of exotic spices and flavors.

Suddenly, foods that were once a ‘treat’ at home, or reserved for special holidays, were readily available: we had fresh, juicy pomegranates every morning for breakfast, the most delicious bananas—about as long as your thumb, bright yellow, plump with such a flavor!—hot milky tea infused with cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves, homemade curd, and ragi porridge… and that was just for breakfast! Having experienced primarily North Indian cooking in the States, I was introduced to the Tamil cuisine and quickly came to love the mounds of steaming rice topped with vegetable sambar(a spicy lentil and vegetable soup), the dosa (a savory crepe made from rice flour), idli (steamed rice flour cakes), chappati (grain pancake), and cool, creamy coconut chutneys.

As the High Holidays came closer and closer, I found myself indulging in memories, thoughts of teshuvah, and humming tunes of Kol Nidre as I peeled pomegranate slices in the morning. I was satisfied and excited by the delicious food around me, but I couldn’t stop thinking about that apple cake. So for Rosh Hashanah, some friends and I celebrated the holiday with a mixture of traditional, symbolic foods and new ones that marked the holiday as separate from the rest of our experience. We searched for a treat made from apples and found an apple pastry at a French bakery in Auroville; we dipped apples in honey, and made Kiddush over ‘grape juice’ made from grape syrup and water. These flavors, smells, and textures, helped me identify the warm, tropical evening in Tamil Nadu, India as erev Rosh Hashanah. But we also dipped our apples in jaggery, a local plant derived sweetener, indulged in an Indian dinner that night, and bought Indian candies to help mark the celebration. We chose a coffee flavored candy to symbolize ‘being wide awake’ to all that the New Year has in store. Since we had pomegranates every morning for breakfast, we decided to use dates instead to further mark the evening as a special time.

As time went on, it was wonderful to also experience the treats and foods that make Indian holidays special. At the school I worked at we sampled the sweet pongal (warm, sweet rice dish) and freshly cooked chickpeas offered to the Hindu goddess Saraswathi on the Saraswathi Puja holiday; at Diwali I was showered with all sorts of treats, savory and sweet, that family members of the women I worked with made especially for the holiday. This experience reminded me how essential food is to any and all religious celebrations, and of the power it has to influence our experience of the world. My Tamil co-workers were so excited to share the holiday treats with me, and I was so grateful to be able to share the celebration with them through the food.

It has been exactly one month since I left India and I still miss all those flavors and textures, and probably will until I return again. As I reflect on my experience of celebrating the High Holidays in Tamil Nadu, I realize that it was very important to me to recreate some of the familiar holiday experience. While there was no nearby synagogue to go to, I could create some of the atmosphere I was missing in the moment through surrounding myself with familiar flavors and foods. But at the same time, I realized that perhaps more important than jogging positive memories, atmospheres, and associations through ritual foods, was marking the time as separate and special. I learned that I could do this with brand new foods that I had never before associated with the holidays; for in the space that I was in, it was these new seemingly unconnected foods that marked the time as different. So perhaps this will be a new Rosh Hashanah tradition from now on: in addition to the famous apple cake, I will try to have a completely new dish or food never before associated with the holiday to further mark the time as different and special.

Ilana Cohen is a senior in the Joint Program between Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary where she studies the anthropology of Judaism through a Women and Gender Studies lens.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Tradition, Seasonal Eating, Rosh Hashanah, Pomegranate, Local Eating, India

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.