The Jewish Federation of Howard County kicked off the first of its three-part virtual series, Nosh + Nourish with Chef Bryan Crystal, on Aug. 29 with a live demonstration of Crystal’s apple strudel recipe.
Billed as both a cooking and learning series, the series promises to feature local Howard County rabbis and cantors providing tidbits about upcoming holidays as well as a cooking segment with its titular chef. The second and third installments in the series are currently set for Nov. 14 and April 10, 2022, respectively.
The first class took place a little more than a week before Rosh Hashanah.
“It will come as no surprise to anyone that an apple recipe was chosen for Rosh Hashanah,” said Rabbi Kim Blumenthal of Bet Chaverim at the beginning of the Aug. 29 class. In addition to symbolizing a sweet new year, apples are in season, she said.
Blumenthal also told a story from Jewish tradition that helps highlight the connection between the apple and Rosh Hashanah as the birthday of the world and the anniversary of creation.
During a snowy winter in the midst of a great oak forest, she said, a small apple tree looked up and saw the night’s stars seemingly hanging from the neighboring oak trees. “‘Oh God,’ whispered the apple tree, ‘how lucky those oak trees are to have such beautiful stars hanging on their branches. I want more than anything to have stars on my branches, for then I would be truly special,’” Blumenthal said. God urged the apple tree to have patience, and the tree kept growing through the spring and summer as fruit appeared dangling from its branches. As the tree continued to sulk over its lack of stars, an apple fell off and split open on the ground. God commanded the tree to look down, and it saw a star in the middle of the split apple, realizing then that it had stars inside itself all along.
“I really like this Rosh Hashanah story because it takes something we’re so familiar with, the apples, the sweetness of the apple, and it asks us to dive a little bit deeper and elucidates other elements of this holiday,” Blumenthal said.
Rosh Hashanah gives worshippers “the opportunity to look inside ourselves, and instead of being inspired by everything that we see all around us, which is wonderful to be inspired by, recognizing that which we hold within, which often we overlook, perhaps because it is so close to us,” Blumenthal said.
Blumenthal then turned the event over to Cantor Stephanie Weishaar, spiritual leader of Kol Nefesh, who offered reflections on Psalm 27 and its relevance to the age of social distancing.
“There’s a piece that may be familiar to you, asking God for just one thing: … That we want to dwell in the presence of God,” Weishaar said.
The community has been doing a great deal of Zooming into synagogues, or into the houses of cantors or rabbis, Weishaar noted. As such, the notion of what qualifies as a spiritual place may have shifted in people’s minds.
“But at this time of year, right before Rosh Hashanah, it’s good for us to take a moment and think about what it is we need inside us, like the star, to help us feel that connection to the divine,” Weishaar said.
The event then pivoted to the cooking portion with Crystal, who gave a live demonstration of his apple strudel recipe.
“We’re going to be celebrating Rosh Hashanah with the apples that fell off of the tree from the rabbi’s story,” Crystal said. “It’s a little bit different of a twist on a traditional apple dish for Rosh Hashanah. … Rosh Hashanah apple cake is what we always had in my house as our apple thing, and apples and honey. But this is kind of something different than your regular, mainstream apple thing.”