Rabbi David blows the shofar, a beautifully carved ram’s horn, to herald the beginning of Rosh Hashanah. The sound is considered pious, like the sound from the conch blown by temple pujaris. The sound itself is not dissimilar to that of the conch but the Rabbi produces many short notes between a few long ones. “This is asking god to hear the people’s voices and fulfill their wishes,” says the Rabbi.
The small team of Israelis and local Bengalureans working at the Consulate toast their glasses of wine and say “lekhayem”, cheers and good health. It is the eve of the Jewish New Year, and the celebrations have commenced, putting the Israeli Jews in a festive mood.
Rosh Hashanah is a two-day celebration that marks the dawn of a new year for Jews around the world. It is the first holiday that starts the festive month of Tishrei. For the small community of Israeli Jews in Bengaluru, it is a time to get together to rejoice the start of the year but also to reflect on the year gone by. Over the two days they gather to pray, share delicious home-cooked food, visit each other’s homes and spend time with their families.
The festival was celebrated between 20-22 September. The excitement on the morning of the 20th at the Israeli Consulate was palpable. The table had a wonderful spread of food signifying various aspects of the Jewish new year. The New Year can only begin with apples and honey. Considered as food of the land, they signify wishes for a sweet year ahead. No table will be complete without bowls of pomegranate seeds. The idea being, just like the seeds of a pomegranate seem uncountable, so be the joys and success in the coming year. “All our good thoughts, deeds and dreams for the new year may be like the pomegranate seeds, countless,” says the Rabbi about the significance of pomegranate seeds in the celebrations. Every Jewish table will have these three essentials as part of their spread.
Another indispensable dish is the honey cake (see recipe below) that every Israeli Jew worth her sweetness will bake fresh. At the Consulate there were two of them, one specially flown in from Israel and the other baked by Noa, the Rabbi’s wife. The honey cake is a wonderfully light fluffy cake, somewhat like the mawa cake found in the Iranian restaurants in Mumbai. The sweetness of honey comes through beautifully but is delicately balanced by the bitterness of coffee, both of which give it a lovely dark brown colour. Keeping with the sweet spirit of the New Year as soon as the cake comes out of the oven it is doused with more honey, just before it is served while it is still warm.
For Dana Kursh, the Consul General at the Israeli consulate in Bengaluru holding such gatherings, especially when on deputation abroad, is not only a way of reinforcing her faith but also representing fellow Israelis. She wishes this Jewish New Year brings prosperity to both Indians and Israelis and finds new ways of connecting the two nations. But for Kursh essentially “this festival is a combination of family, food and fun.”
Later the same evening, unmindful of the lack of a community centre in Bengaluru, Israelis from across town come under a common roof to kick start the New Year festivities in earnest.
The Rabbi is the most important religious figure in the Jewish community. His duties involve addressing every need of the members of the community — from the time somebody is born to the time of their death. During the festive season, David Rivkin, the designated Rabbi for the Israeli community, binds the community together and performs daily prayers for members to attend.
On this evening he starts with a long prayer session for a small gathering of around 50 people. After this it is feasting time and two long tables are full of variety of dishes. Apart from the omnipresent essentials of apples, honey, pomegranate and dates, the tables also have a diversity of challah bread, salads, rice and meat preparations.
Since lighting a fire is not permissible on the eve of the new year, every family has brought along a home-cooked dish prepared earlier. Israel, much like India, is a melting pot of cultures as Israelis from all over the globe returned home after they had an separate independent land of their own. This mixture is reflected in the food too — in dishes like the Hazil Bemayonez made of eggplant, tomatoes, onion, garlic and olive oil, which resembles the baingan bharta. But others, like Moroccan fish (which is made from first boiling cabbage, chilli, coriander, carrots, garlic and chickpeas together, and later fried in oil to season with red paprika, salt and pepper, then topped with a fish like tilapia until it is cooked) are absolutely different.
Such delicious food and family gatherings make Rosh Hashana special for expat Israelis like Malka Irani. She is a clinical psychologist married to an Indian. For her the new year means buying new clothes, memories of visiting the synagogue and special songs that are sung during these holidays that signify asking for forgiveness from god.
The festivities continue the next evening when families get together again over dinner. Kursh had invited her Israeli and Indian friends over. And she had a table full of traditional treats lined up — the pick of which was baked salmon doused in soy sauce, honey, ginger and lemon juice. Soy sauce is perhaps an eastern influence in Israeli food but it simply elevates the dish while the honey gives it a sweet backdrop. Once it is baked, it comes together beautifully as a slightly tangy but sweet dish that packs a delightful umami punch.
Much like this dish, the Israeli community in Bengaluru would like to be a melting pot for ideas and collaborations with Indians but also see their own community grow. This year was the 5778th year of the Jewish calendar and they hope by the time the next Rosh Hashana comes along, they would have a community centre or a synagogue of their own, to further deepen their 25-year relationship with India.
Here's a recipe for Honey Cake:
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 cup black tea
3 3/4 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 tablespoon instant coffee powder
1 cup crushed nuts
3 tablespoon honey mixed in 7 tablespoons of boiling water to make a syrup
Heat the oven to 170 degree C.
Mix eggs, sugar, oil, honey, tea, flour, cinnamon and coffee together till it resembles a gooey dough.
Now mix in the nuts.
Bake for 35-45 mins in the oven.
Upon removal pour the honey syrup over the warm cake.
Published Date: Sep 30, 2017 11:07 am | Updated Date: Sep 30, 2017 05:08 pm