Rosh Hashanah Experience


Rosh Hashanah Experience


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Honey Cake

By Tammar Stein

For me, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, comes down to this: a recipe for good luck baked down from mother to daughter for the length of our family’s collective memory.

My great-grandmother had baked honey cake for as long as my grandmother remembers. None of us know for sure how long the recipe has been in our family, but it has been passed down, unchanged, mother to daughter for as long as I know.

More important than the appetizer or main course, a Rosh Hashanah meal is defined by dessert. For on a dinner where sweetness is the prevailing theme, possibly determining the entire tone of the upcoming year, dessert is the most important course of all. And forever in my family, that most important dessert has been honey cake.

When my family left Israel and moved to Virginia, my elderly great-grandmother sent us a honey cake every Rosh Hashanah. The cake was dark, almost black, sticky and sweet. It carried in it every good wish, every happy memory she could send from Israel. It symbolized everything a grandmother could send you to protect you and love you.

When my great-grandmother passed away, my grandmother picked up the tradition and we continued to receive cakes, every September, in the mail. It was always exciting to receive the package, wrapped in brown paper, tied with white string, half a dozen stamps stuck in the upper right corner. The cake would sit on our counter, wrapped in plastic until Rosh Hashanah dinner, promising future sweetness, future happiness and joy. And when we would eat it with our guests we knew our family in Israel was with us as well.

Year after year passed. Some sweeter than others. I grew up. I left home. I got married. I moved across an ocean and settled down in Germany.

The next Rosh Hashanah, my first not with my family, I called my mother for the recipe. I thought I would be sad when I made my honey cake, my first all alone. But instead as I set out the ingredients, I could see my grandmother in Israel, my mother in Virginia, and me, in Germany, all doing the same thing, following the same instructions. Steeping the cup of tea, measuring flour, sugar, and honey in global synchronization.

On three continents, three different time zones, three different languages playing on the radio, we were united. I felt their echoes in my batter. Felt their warm breath as I opened the oven. And when my cakes were ready, filling the house with that wonderful rich smell, looking so familiar, I knew that my great-grandmother was still with me, her blessings and sweet wishes as fresh and alive as when I was a child. I could feel my grandmother’s love and my mother’s love unite us across oceans and I knew, this year would be just wonderful.

Tammar Stein is a freelance writer living in Europe and has recently completed her first novel.


from the September 2001 Edition of the Jewish Magazine




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