UAE: A sweet start to the Jewish New Year


Dubai - On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish community prays for a blessed year, casts off the previous year's sins and enjoys sweet treats


Suneeti Ahuja Kohli

Published: Mon 6 Sep 2021, 8:51 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Sep 2021, 8:57 PM

The small Jewish community in the UAE is set to celebrate Jewish New Year in the sweetest way possible — with prayers and apples dipped in honey.

Tonight marks the beginning of the year 5782 in the Hebrew calendar. The start of the new year — Rosh Hashanah — will be celebrated for two nights and culminate on Wednesday evening.

For the Jewish community in the UAE, it is a time to bond with fellow residents and celebrate the diversity and unity among the group.

Rabbi Levi Duchman, who has lived in the UAE for seven years, said: “We are so proud to be able to celebrate Rosh Hashanah here in the UAE. It is such a blessed country, where the leadership values and promotes tolerance, coexistence and social cohesion. To be able to read to the congregation both in Abu Dhabi and Dubai and ensure that our community has all that it needs is really a tremendous opportunity.”

This year has been different from the last seven for Rabbi Duchman, primarily because many more members have joined the community.

“We have a large Israeli community joining us from Israel and it is something that we were really looking forward to,” he said, adding that a rabbi’s role is to bring together people from different communities, regardless of where they’re from.

Rosh Hashanah is a day Jews spend with family and blow the shofar (ram’s horn), which sounds similar to a trumpet. The horn is blown a hundred times during the service, making it an exhilarating experience for attendees.

“It is really a time when we come together as a community and pray together for a blessed year,” Rabbi Duchman said.

At homes, celebrations are all about food and gatherings. What makes the festival interesting is the symbolism around certain foods.

Explaining the rituals around food, Ross Kriel, Jewish community leader and long-time Dubai resident, said: “It is mostly about ringing in the new year with hope and optimism for a sweet year ahead. We take an apple and dip it in honey. So, dipping a sweet thing into something sweeter symbolises that the year ahead should be sweeter than the last one.”

Jews eat several symbolic foods on Rosh Hashanah in hopes of a beautiful and meritorious year ahead.

“For instance, we eat a pomegranate, which symbolises abundance. It is customary to eat the head of a fish, which signifies that one should be conscious and thoughtful in everything that they do," Kriel said.

From Rosh Hashanah until the end of the festive period, Jews eat a round bread, but instead of dipping it in salt (as is customary before a meal), the bread is dipped in honey to signify sweetness and completeness.

Another custom is Tashlich, which literally means casting off. It is performed on the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Jews symbolically cast off the sins of the previous year in a body of water by tossing pebbles or bread crumbs.

"In Dubai, we would go to the sea, people also go to rivers and lakes,” said Kriel.

Elli, founder of Elli’s Kosher Kitchen, said she has been on a baking spree to commemorate this festival and celebrate all things sweet with her family and friends.

“I have made an Emirati date cake with a lot of spices and a sweet tahini dressing.I am also making apple strudel and orange cake with golden syrup. Then there are different kinds of home-made baklava and walnut cake. There is basically a lot of cooking that is involved,” she said.

But aside from cooking and eating, there are also other dinner table rituals. “We have dates, pomegranates, carrots, and each thing means something. Various portions of foods are laid on the table and we run through them and say why we are having them, which makes it all the more special," Elli said.

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