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Jewish holidays traditionally begin at sunset, when Jews make a blessing on lighting candles. Before or after evening services at synagogue, the Jewish family has a ritual dinner in honor of the holiday. At home, families may recite the blessing over the wine to sanctify the holiday, and the blessing over the bread to elevate the meal. These traditions of blessing wine and food are part of the Jewish pattern of elevating the home table to the status of an altar. Usually, guests do not have to recite the blessings, but only to affirm them by saying "amen."
If you have participated in Shabbat meals or other Jewish holidays, the rituals of blessing the bread and wine will be familiar to you. There is one special ritual for Rosh Hashanah meals, which is the meditation on (and eating of!) symbolic foods that are sweet, round, symbolize money, or make a pun on a Hebrew word that indicates good fortune. In most American Jewish families, the special foods are apples with honey and round challah (enriched, braided white bread) with raisins. Many prayer books contain a set meditation for eating these sweet foods, "May it be your will, our God and God of our ancestors, that you renew for us a good and sweet year."
Jews traditionally eat yellow or orange foods, like carrots, as a symbol of prosperity, as well as foods whose names pun with desirable outcomes for the New Year and foods with heads. Rosh Hashanah literally means the head of the year and therefore some Jews eat fish with the heads on, or calf brains. In the same spirit, feel free to eat a head of lettuce or cabbage instead--some French Jews eat food with a head of garlic in it. Some eat honey cake or teiglach, an Eastern European cookie that is boiled in honey, or other sweets. Pomegranates are traditional in some Jewish communities, because the many seeds inside symbolize abundance. Another tradition is to eat a new fruit on the second night of Rosh Hashanah.
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