PALM HARBOR, FL – The Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana is a time of introspection, to make improvements for the new year and to see things in life “more sweetly.”
That was the message Tuesday night as a group of women gathered into the cozy Young Israel-Chabad of Pinellas County synagogue on Fisher Road to bake Rosh Hashana desserts and learn about the holiness and significance of the upcoming holiday. As the mixer whirred, women’s hands reached for flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and other ingredients — working together to create the perfect honey cake, and connecting the spiritual with the physical.
“Everything goes with honey on Rosh Hashana,” said Rebbetzin Chanie Adler, the wife of Young Israel Chabad’s head rabbi, Sholom Adler.
As part of a Young Israel Chabad women’s group event, about 20 women attended “Everything Honey for 5770.”
The number is the year according to the Hebrew calendar. The holiday marks the anniversary of the creation of man and woman, according to the Torah.
It’s traditional to eat sweet foods, especially honey, on Rosh Hashana, which begins at sundown today and runs through Sunday night.
Some of the women delivered the desserts Wednesday to the elderly residents of Weinberg Village in Tampa.
Sylvia Cohen of Palm Harbor is a kosher caterer and also works at Weinberg Village. She helped lead Tuesday’s event and coordinate the food donation.
During the Hebrew month of Elul, the time leading up to Rosh Hashana, it’s especially important to increase compassion and giving, Adler said.
“Start off the new year by taking it upon yourself to do more good,” she said.
After helping to prepare the desserts, she eloquently spoke to the group of women gathered in a circle around her about the spirituality behind the tradition of eating honey on this holiday.
While bees are not a kosher animal, according to the Torah, because of the intricacies of making the honey, the rabbis ruled that honey can be kosher.
This teaches an important lesson: We sometimes think of ways to get out of doing things, like new year’s resolutions for example, but we should figure out ways to be positive, Adler said.
Starting off the new year is a good time to get more involved in the community and help others, she said.
And like honey is sticky, she said, we should also strive to be closer to God.
She spoke about the two main foods that are dipped in honey: apples and challah (egg bread). The apple comes directly from the tree — directly from God — while the bread involves a man-made process.
This teaches us that we should be thankful for the things in life that are easy to get, as well as the things we work hard for, she said.
“We still have to thank Hashem (God),” she said. “All of this should come in a sweet way.”
It’s traditional to wish others the Hebrew phrase, “L’shana Tova, Ume tukah,” which means “not just a good year, but a sweet year,” she said.
When you taste something, you immediately know it’s sweet or not, she said, but in life that’s not always the case. Sometimes it seems things are going badly, but in reality, God has a plan.
“We don’t always see the goodness,” she said. But, “everything happens for the best.”
Quoting Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, leader of the Brooklyn-based Chabad Lubavitch movement, she said that on Rosh Hashana, it’s traditional to ask God that we should not only experience goodness, but also that we should be able to recognize and feel it.
“We should see the goodness, visibly, and reveal the goodness,” she said.
Leah Holzer, 38, moved from Cincinnatti earlier this year to Dunedin and attended Tuesday’s event with her daughter, Lauren, 10.
“I wanted to learn how to make honey cake,” Leah Holzer said. “I’m so inspired.”
She works at Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services as a Holocaust survivor case worker. Since her work day can be emotionally intense, this event was a chance to be around other women and share some laughs.
“I’m so excited to be part of this community and spend my first holiday (at Young Israel Chabad) in Palm Harbor.”
Her daughter, Lauren, is in fourth grade at the Pinellas County Jewish Day School in Clearwater.
“I like making food for Rosh Hashana and all the holidays,” Lauren said. Plus, “honey cake is really good.”
Enjoying a cup of purple parfait following the event, Gayle Benet of Tarpon Springs spoke passionately about the synagogue and the sisterhood, which she said is “the best.”
The event was another chance for Benet, who owns a publishing company, to get together socially with other women and learn about the holiness and spirituality of the upcoming holiday.
“We have fun here,” Benet said. “Everything here is learning. Everything has meaning.”