Sunday, September 6, 2009

Egyptian Jews Use Wheat to Watch the New Year Sprout

We all know these Rosh Hashanah food customs: a round challah to symbolize the cycle of life; apples dipped in honey for a sweet year; eating the pomegranate as a new fruit because its 613 seeds represent Judaism’s 613 commandments; preparing carrot tzimmis because the Yiddish word for carrots is “merren”, connoting “more” – more children, more wealth, more good deeds, etc. But watching wheat sprout? It’s an ancient custom practiced by many Egyptian Jews that can easily be turned into a Rosh Hashanah classroom science experiment. Anywhere between a week to ten days before Rosh Hashanah, the family would scatter grains of wheat on a piece of damp cotton wool placed on a small plate or in a shallow bowl. Alternatively, they would use either barley or lentils. Sure enough, by the time Rosh Hashanah rolled around, the wheat would sprout, signaling the beginning of a New Year and all that it will yield. How can you adapt this to the classroom? Try comparing how quickly lentil seeds take to sprout if they are placed on or inside damp cotton (make sure to keep it damp), as opposed to being planted in fresh soil inside a yogurt container, making sure the soil is always damp and not overwatered.

May this budding experiment mark the beginning of a year full of growth.

Shana Tova…Tami

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