Rosh Hashanah

After Hurricane Irma: How Gardens family juggles storm, Rosh Hashanah

Jennifer Sabin and her daughter had always planned to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, with her parents in New Jersey this week.

But because of Hurricane Irma, it’s the second time they’ll have made that trip in two weeks. And she didn’t think twice about it.

RELATED RECIPE: A cookie baked apple pie for Rosh Hashanah

“I think it’s important for my daughter to see the traditions forming,” says Sabin, of Palm Beach Gardens, who along with 7-year-old daughter Sophie drove a whole day through rain in a dying car to escape the storm. “I have an amazing family, and to me it’s about being with family. I’d rather be with them, having the apples and honey.”

For the Sabins and others, food is “part of a tremendous symbolism with Rosh Hashanah. From very young, we learn the song ‘Dip the apple in the honey,’” says Rabbi Moshe Cheplowitz, of Gardens Jewish Experience in Palm Beach Gardens. “We dip the apples and our challah bread, to have a happy, healthy and sweet New Year.”

But the proximity of Hurricane Irma to Rosh Hashanah, which begins Wednesday evening and ends Friday evening, was a potential interruption for local Jewish families. For Sabin, it meant changing travel plans to make sure that she was able to spend it with her family.

In Rabbi Cheplowitz’s congregation, many “left to (places) from Orlando to Alabama, trying to get out of harm’s way. We had one family that had been planning to go north for the holiday anyway, and instead of coming back here, they took a flight from wherever they’d fled and went to their family a little bit early.”

And wherever they go, those families will likely cement not only their religious celebration but their bond with traditional foods that incorporate honey, apples, challah bread and more, says Joanna Caras, a Port St. Lucie author and television personality who has written two volumes, “The Holocaust Survivor’s Cookbook” and “Miracles and Meals.” Each book features stories and recipes collected from Holocaust survivors from around the world.

“Celebrating the New Year celebrates what is really important in life, and how better to do that then when we come together, through our food and the things that bring us all together in one spot?” says Caras, who hosts a show called “Miracles and Meals with Joanne Caras” on Jewish Life TV.

“The (holiday) is about starting all over again, and having hope. We are grateful for everyone, in this storm, surviving with electricity. Hope sparks up something better. That’s what the survivors did. They took what they could and brought it back to be able to commemorate special times with their family.”

Among the more than 200 recipes Caras has assembled in her two books (proceeds all go to support a soup kitchen in Israel and other charitable organizations) are several appropriate for Rosh Hashanah. That includes including honey cake and round challah bread, which represents “a crown, crowning God Almighty as our king, and also the circle of life,” says Rabbi Cheplowitz.

In Sabin’s home, her mother Shirley, “an amazing cook,” makes both “an apple cake that is stellar,” and a dessert with plums, another traditional Rosh Hashanah ingredient. She says that as she and Sophie prepare to return to New Jersey to make those special dishes, she reflects on their mad dash to the same place before Hurricane Irma, when she drove the whole way without turning her ailing car off in driving rain, afraid that it wouldn’t restart if she did.

“In terms of the holiday, the hurricane gives me perspective on what is important,” says Sabin, who runs two business consultant firms, The Sabin Group and the Growth Management Group. “We had two hours to pack up what was important. We left what was extraneous, and thought ‘If it’s gone, it’s gone.’ “In terms of Rosh Hashanah, and the New Year, it’s about the opportunity to be a better us.”

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