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September 15, 2017

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PAGE 20A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, SEPTEMBER 15, 2017 By Edmon J. Rodman LOSANGELES (JTA)--For Rosh Hashanah, many of us eat an apple dipped in honey as an auspicious sign for a sweet new year. The symbol- ism is clear, and the ritual as easy to pull off as squeezing a bear-shaped plastic bottle of honey. But what kind of a year could you expect from eating leeks, spinach and a fish head? Ayear ofbeinga contestant on "Chopped"? Many Sephardic Jews prac- tice a custom at Rosh Ha- shanah dinner called "yehi ratzones"--"may it be God's will'--which calls for a kind of mini-seder in which a spe- cial blessing is said before eating certain ceremonial foods. Though it's a custom practiced mainly by Sep- hardim whose forebears lived in the Ottoman Empire, the idea of eating these special foods at this time of year can be found in the Babylonian Talmud, which mentions that certain fruits and vegetables should be seen on our Rosh Hashanah tables. My wife, Brenda, is half Sephardic--her father's fam- ily came to the United States from the Greek island of Rhodes--and since she invites her entire extended family over for dinner the first night of Rosh Hashanah, I thought that we could include the custom this year. After all, much like apples and honey, the symbolic foods eaten for yehi ratzones--in- cluding, yes, the aforemen- tioned fish heads, as well as the likes of black-eyed peas and dates--taken as a group also represent the hope for a good coming year. Who wouldn't want to say amen to that? But I should have known, like any other change in family custom--Talmudically sanc- tioned or not--negotiation would be involved. When I brought up the idea to Brenda, she told me she had never heard of the custom. Not only that, but some of the yehi ratzones foods--notably spinach, traditionally served in her family in the form of a cheese-free "quajado" (a kind of spinach kugel) and fried leek patties, were found "on the family's seder table, not at Rosh Hashanah," she told her completely Ashkenazi hus- band. (Meanwhile, I suddenly realized that after decades of Greetings and Best Wishes for the New Year Maitland Tire Company Robert A. Lesperance 233 North Orlando Avenue Maitland, Florida 32751 407-539-0800 Fax 407-539-0608 marriage, I had been living in a multicultural home.) Looking for cover, I called Brenda's Uncle Lou, who didn't remember practic- ing the custom, either. But he did recall growing up with dates and pomegran- ates-two of the foods used in yehi ratzones--always on his mother's Rosh Hashanah table here. "You see? Your family prac- ticed part of the tradition," I said, hoping that would settle it. "But how do you do it?" Lou asked, warming slightly to the idea. I didn't know, but look- ing for an answer, I called Ty Alhadeff, the coordinator of the Sephardic studies program at the University of Washington. A third- generation Rhodesli--as descendants of the Sephardim from Rhodes are called--and a member of Seattle's Congre- gation Ezra Bessaroth, which practices the customs of the Rhodes traditions, I thought he could explain the ins and outs of yehi ratzones. Within the first minute of our conversation Alhadeff said, "From generations back, I'm related to the Has- sons"--my wife's family. I knew immediately I had found the right guy. Alhadeff helped me un- derstand that the pairing of blessings and foods during yehi ratzones is, at its heart, Hebrew and Aramaic word- play. Puns, really, that rely on certain words for foods sound- ing similar to certain Hebrew verb forms. "It's like saying 'May our enemies be mashed like these mashed potatoes,'" Alhadeff explained. For instance, the Aramaic word "squash" is "karah," he explained. The Hebrew word By Debra Kamin TEL AVIV (JTA)--Rabbi Talia Avnon-Benvinste grew up secular. Her family felt deeply and culturally Jew- ish, but beyond the regular Israeli rhythms of holidays and shared history, didn't observe religious customs. But when, in the 1980s, Avnon-Benvinste turned 12, she shocked her family by telling them she wanted a re- ligious ceremony to celebrate her bat mitzvah. Avnon-Benvinste's fam- ily was on a kibbutz in Israel--not in the United States, where Reform Jewish congregations offer religious coming-of-age ceremonies to girls as well as boys. And while many of her female peers had parties to celebrate this milestone birthday, a religious service--one that involved a girl reading from the Torah--was utterly un- heard of. So Avnon-Benvinste's fa- ther offered a compromise of sorts: He wasn't able to create a religious ceremony for her, but he could take her to Tel Aviv to visit Belt Hatfutsot, a museum devoted to the stories and cultures of the world's Jews. Fish heads are commonly ratzones." connecting it to the blessing is "karah," a form of the verb meaning "to tear." Therefore, when we eat squash during the seder, the accompanying blessing is "May it be Thy will You should tear up our evil decree, and let there be read before You, our merits." A bit more of a stretch is the Aramaic word for leek, "karati," and the Hebrewword "Yikaretu," cut off, as found in the blessing: "May it be Thy will to cut off our enemies." As for the fish head-- Alhadeff said he uses fish cheek instead--it's because the word for head, "rosh" (as in Rosh Hashanah, literally "head of the year") figures into the yehi ratzones bless- ing "May it be Thy will that we may be on the forefront as the head and not in the background as the tail." Alhadeff told me there have been some attempts at reinter- pretations of the yehi ratzones blessings, which shift the The trip involved three buses. Avnon-Benvinste's fa- ther took a day off from work and packed a bag of snacks, and off they went. And at the museum--which, since 1978, has sat on the leafy campus of Tel Aviv University and chronicled the history of Jewish people across the globe--Avnon-Benvinste got exactly the spiritual experi- ence she had been hoping for. "It was a big deal to come to Tel Aviv from far away and spend the day learning about our ancestors, about the kind of legacy that I come from," she said in a recent interview. "We went through the differ- ent floors-and exhibitions, and my father explained to me who we were, as Jews. And I remember it very strongly: At some point during that trip, I felt that I am in many ways a result of these generations of my family, that I belong to a great and inspiring story." She may have been only 12 years old at the time, but Avnon-Benvinste says that then and there she decided to. commit herself to Jewish communal life. She's made good on that personal promise. Today Avnon-Benviste is one of a scant few female Reform included in the Sephardic Rash meaning while staying true to the specific foods. "It's not about the evil decrees being cut," he said. For example, Alhadeff said he found a blessing for Squash that says "May the coming year grow as a gourd in the fullness of blessing." I was inspired. But getting back to the more mundane issues of how exactly we'd get this stuff ready for a group of 30, I asked him how the Alhadeff family gets it done. "There is adivision of labor," Alhadeff said, noting that he makes the leek patties and his wife the pumpkin (squash) bourekas. The two share the shopping. As my wife and I discussed the coming dinner, we decided that forour firstyehi ratzones, we would take our cue from the Alhadeffs: sharing the work would be the added bless- ing to our observance. Also, knowing that some variation was OK, we decided to pick Jewish rabbis in Israel. And, in addition to advocating for better integration of Reform Judaism in Israeli society, she also manages the education and content wing of Beit Hatfutsot-Museum of the Jewish People by serving as director of its International School for Jewish Peoplehood (ISJPS). The museum sees about 200,000 visitors annually, a number it hopes to double by the end of an upcoming $100-million, 12-year reno- vation and renewal. But while many of those visitors drop in to see its world-famous Syna- gogue Gallery, scroll through its online Jewish genealogy archives or take in a rotating exhibit, for many patrons, a trip to the museum begins and ends in a classroom. The ISJPS at Belt Hatfutsot is a both a school within a museum--with a student body that ranges in age from preschoolers to seniors--as well as a school withoutwalls. The ISJPS develops, curates and ships educational pro- grams to classrooms around the globe. So when a Jewish summer camp in Indiana is looking for a fresh way to tell the story of the destruction of Mark Kolbe/Getty Images Hashanah custom of "yehi just a few foods that would be familiar to the family. Brenda agreed to cook the spinach quajado. I called her sister, Holly, and though she also reminded me her family only ate these foods on Pass- over--they are sisters, after all--she said she would make the the leek patties using her grandmother's recipe. Not wanting to fill every- one up on pumpkin-filled anything, I settled on buying shelled pumpkin seeds, pepi- tas, to pass around. I figured everyone could benefit from the "fullness of blessing" concept before sitting down to our tried-and-true dinner of turkey, okra, Persian rice and salad. Of course, having our evil decrees cut wouldn't hurt, either. Edmon J. Rodman is a JTA columnist who writes on Jewish life from Los Angeles. Contact him at edmojace@ the Temple, or a tour group of Russian-speaking octo- genarians is bused to the museum from their group home, Avnon-Benviste and her 15-person staff put to- gether a custom curriculum to make sure the stories are told in the clearest and most compelling way possible. If they can teach the cur- riculum on-site, they will em- ploy one of their educators to do so as part of a guided tour of the museum. But if the tar- get group is located far away from the museum's campus, ISPJS crafts a custom lesson plan to guide educators on the ground. "Most of our work is actu- ally not happening here at the museum," Avnon-Benviste said. "All of our content is being developed here and we find different opportunities to ship our knowledge to Jew- ish communities. Wherever there is Jewish life, we find the models and platforms to engage the unengaged, or bring into the inner circle those who are already part of the story." The school today reaches more than 90,000 people per year, both on campus and - ,4 Custom Printing -- Invitations & Announcements & Offset Printing :/ Brochures & Booklets Digital / Direct Mail Services Forms & Letterheads Envelopes Business Cards 205 NoRh Street Longwood, FL 32750 Bring in this ad and receive 18% Discount Museum on page 21A