Handing reach out with a plate to a Table With Cheese, Fruits, Crackers And Wine
Credit: Tatjana Zlatkovic/Stocksy

Rosh Hashanah Dinner, Redeemed in the Time of a Pandemic

published Sep 18, 2020
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Since launching my Jewish food business, The Gefilteria, in 2012, my Jewish holiday experiences have never been the same. While many folks are grocery shopping and menu planning for their special meals at home, I’m planning the production timeline and coordinating in-store demos for my company’s artisanal gefilte fish.

Once the holiday arrives, I can usually take a breath and enjoy a festive meal with family and friends, but my contributions are generally dishes that I’m also recipe-testing for work. Favorites include crispy chicken and tsimmes with a honey-ginger glaze and orange-spiced rye honey cake, which I’ll eat for dessert but also for breakfast. (Both recipes come from The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods co-authored by myself and my Gefilteria business partner, Jeffrey Yoskowitz).  

Truth be told, I’ve enjoyed this hustle-bustle lifestyle. The Gefilteria is my passion, and in a strange way, I feel even more engaged with the holiday table than ever before. My products and recipes are on the tables of families around the globe. It’s pretty special. 

And then, four years ago, just as production and logistics at The Gefilteria seemed to get a lot easier, my Jewish holidays got another twist: I started dating my girlfriend, who is the director of worship at Lab/Shul, a community of thousands. So now, both of us are working hard in the weeks leading up to the holidays and my partner is working on the holidays themselves. How do two Jewish professionals who love our work in our community make it work? We usually take part in the catered dinners and lunches with Lab/Shul, while finding ways to sneak in some low-key time with our own families, too. 

And this year, it’s another twist. COVID-19 means that The Gefilteria adjusted its production and other engagements to meet the limitations of the moment. Rosh Hashanah services are happening virtually, so there won’t be any gatherings of thousands or meals with dozens. It all feels a little anti-climactic. If I’m honest, I had held out hope all these months that by Rosh Hashanah we’d be gloriously gathering again. Instead, we’ll find ways to see our families safely, probably on a Brooklyn stoop, to share the traditional apples dipped in honey symbolizing a sweet new year and round loaves of homemade challah, topped with seeds to symbolize all the growing possibilities in the New Year. And, ironically, I’ll have more time to cook (and eat!) a special meal than I’ve had in a decade, even if I’m only officially cooking for two. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman
How To Make Fluffy Potato Kugel

My Menu for Rosh Hashanah This Year

So I’m finally doing the menu planning I hear so much about from others this time of year, and I’m approaching it with a mix of nostalgia and the reality of the moment. As an ode to my partner’s favorite childhood dish, and my own devotion to Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine, I’ll plan to make a savory, fluffy potato kugel, crisped to perfection on top, using a combination of potatoes and other root vegetables (turnip, parsnip) to celebrate the season. And because I love crunch, I’ll serve a broccoli and kale ceasar salad. It’s the perfect reason to harvest the hearty red leaf kale that’s been thriving in the container garden we started back in March, as a way to stay calm while stuck at home. For the main dish, I’ll bring out one of my favorites, a lemony salmon with fennel and orange salad from Adeena Sussman’s Sababa (I prefer Arctic Char in the place of salmon). Fish is my favorite main dish for a very small group since it’s easy enough to do a la minute. 

And of course, there has to be a grand finale. Miraculously, this will be the year that I serve a rich, cinnamon babka at my own meal, not just at an event where I get to nibble off the crumbs at the end.

For the last many years, the busy weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah (and Yom Kippur 10 days later) have felt frantic, but with a very clear, very bright light at the end of the tunnel known as “after the holidays.” That’s when things settle down and get back to normal. This Rosh Hashanah, the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t quite as shiny and I know that the normal I’ll go back to will be the new normal. I’m grateful that a meaningful meal (or two or three) will guide me through. That’s a normal I could really get used to.