Andrea Levitan and her two children — Riley, 11, and Elia, 8 — have new year’s plans Sunday evening with about 20 members of their extended family and friends in their Overland Park home.
Sundown marks the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, commonly referred to as the Jewish new year. Rosh Hashanah is the first of 10 days set aside for reflection that culminate in the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur.
Q: What does Rosh Hashanah mean to you?
A: Rosh Hashanah literally means “head of the year,” and it is a time of both reflection of the past year and anticipation of the new one.
The 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, are known as the Days of Awe. During these days, we are called to seek the forgiveness of people we have wronged during the past year. It’s the opportunity to reflect upon the previous year and about “teshuva” or returning to the right path. But the best time for dealing with transgressions against another is shortly after an incident — you don’t have to wait for this time of year.
It’s also traditional to eat something sweet during Rosh Hashanah in hopes that the year to come will be sweet, as well. We include the traditional apples and challah bread dipped in honey, and I reserve making apple cake for this time of year. This apple cake is a modification of a recipe that comes from my friend Judy Berman, and like Judy, it’s a goodie!
The apple is the first fruit mentioned in the Bible in the Garden of Eden, so I think when we partake of the “first fruit” in the new year, it is a way to be mindful that we are symbolically starting over.
Q: Is your Jewish faith reflected in the foods you eat?
A: The Jewish faith and food traditions are deeply intertwined. Both of my grandmothers kept kosher kitchens, meaning that meat and dairy were never to be mixed in a meal or in the preparation of it. The laws of Kashrut are dietary laws designed as a call to holiness, in that people are conscious of the food that is eaten and how it is prepared.
Although I do not keep a kosher kitchen, the meals I prepare with and for my children are about being thankful for food and being mindful of it. Food is meant to sustain us physically. But there’s also an emotional component to it when food is shared during a meal, because of the way it brings people together. Everyone has to eat, but when you pay attention to the details of the food put in your body, it can bring holiness to the most basic act of sharing a meal.
Q: As a licensed professional counselor, you are clear about “disconnect to connect” when it comes to feeding relationships.
A: I think it is common sense that we need to unplug from all the electronic devices and outside distractions in order to plug into those people who are most important. But, as we see, common sense isn’t always that common.
In my home, it’s important that we observe Shabbat weekly, and in preparation, Elia — and sometimes my son Riley — will help make the challah we eat. Every week, my children and I talk about who will come to Shabbat on Friday night with us: It is a very important weekly observance and a way to reconnect.
I love to cook for my family, and there’s nothing better than to see everyone gathered around the table enjoying themselves.
Q: Please tell me the significance of the shofar — or ram’s horn — you recently brought back from Israel.
A: I led a Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project trip to Israel this summer and have felt since I first traveled there when I was 24 years old that Israel is really my home, and I just happen to live in the Kansas City area for now.
The shofar is a real ram’s horn that used by ancient Jews in religious ceremonies. It takes strength and practice to blow through the horn, which my son will play to trumpet the beginning of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This is the Jewish way — to use what God has given us to gather together and be mindful.
There is something about when I return to Israel — its landscape, its people, its way of life — that makes me feel settled in my heart of hearts. Regardless of any turmoil happening there, I feel peace, and that is what I wish for in this new year.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. Email her at email@example.com to nominate a cook.
Rosh Hashanah Apple Cake
Makes 10 servings
For the apples:
6 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons cinnamon
6 Gala apples, peeled, cored, quartered and thinly sliced
For the batter:
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
1/4 cup orange juice
1 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups sugar
For the topping:
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
To prepare apples: In a large mixing bowl, stir sugar and cinnamon together until well combined. Add apples to bowl and coat evenly with cinnamon-sugar mixture. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Coat Bundt pan with nonstick baking spray with flour and set aside.
To prepare batter:
In a large mixing bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, salt and orange peel together until well combined and set aside.
In a mixing bowl beat eggs, orange juice, canola oil and vanilla with an electric mixer set at medium speed for 1 minute.
Add sugar to mixing bowl and continue to beat for 1 minute. Slowly add flour mixture to form the batter and beat for 2 minutes more.
Pour 1/2 of the batter into prepared Bundt pan. Place prepared apples evenly on top of batter in Bundt pan.
Carefully pour remaining batter over the apple layer and bake for 60 to 75 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean when inserted into center of cake.
To prepare topping:
While cake is baking, whisk powdered sugar and cinnamon together and set aside.
After removing cake from oven, allow to cool for 5 minutes before inverting it on a platter or cake pedestal.
While cake is still warm, sprinkle topping over all. Serve immediately or at room temperature.
Per serving: 621 calories (35 percent from fat), 25 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), 85 milligrams cholesterol, 97 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams protein, 283 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.