Holidays can be tricky for blended families. In our case, the Christian side of the family offers to bring the bread for a Passover Seder, and the Jewish side doesn’t understand why dinner has to be after the Christmas Eve service.
It’s a problem best solved with a little humility and grace. That said, it sometimes falls together naturally. The first holiday we spent together with our families was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement in the Jewish calendar—a kind of once-a-year “you’re forgiven” moment. As such, it’s a solemn day, usually marked by a fast until sundown. After that, most families serve up a simple meal of smoked fish and bagels, because there are prohibitions against working on a high holy day.
It could have been fraught with tension: meeting families, packed with about a hundred years’ worth of baggage. Not knowing the customs, not knowing you don’t bring flowers to a solemn moment of repentance. But it wasn’t. We settled in, dug into the platters of cold salads and smoked fish. We honored traditions and gently educated ignorance.
These days, our families are spread across the country. On all sides, we live a plane-flight from each other. So we two often spend many of the holidays together: holidays that are quieter, less fraught—but no less traditional.
Rosh Hashanah always seems the most sensible holiday because it falls exactly where it should. It’s in mid- to late September and it marks the New Year in the Jewish calendar. January 1? No way. For most of us sometime right after Labor Day, we’re back in the saddle, back at work, back at school, starting anew, once the summer heat breaks. The French call this time of year la rentrée (the re-entry), but New Year seems an even better word for it: full of hope and rebirth. The meal for Rosh Hashanah most often includes something sweet, to symbolize a wish and a prayer for a sweet and happy new year.
For these Jewish fall holidays we have worked up delicious recipes for two that honor all the traditions. Our beef stew for Rosh Hashanah is full of butternut squash and dried cherries, an homage to the sweet new year. And for Yom Kippur, we keep it easy with trout salad that’s just a little bit of work. You can make it the day before—or anytime, really, a nice dinner for an early fall evening when you’d rather not turn on the stove.
Contributing editors Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough’s most recent book is The Ultimate Cook Book (William Morrow).