A Very Sweet Tradition

by Maya Zanger-Nadis
Shalom New Haven Interim Editor

The ritual items used on the High Holidays—shofar, machzor, or perhaps a kitel—are all simple, uniform items with little room for personalization. But there are small ways to enhance our aesthetic experience of Tishrei. Westville’s Dr. Steven Wilf, in particular, uses a striking cobalt blue glass honey dish with silver detailing by Jerusalem artist Avi Luvaton to accomplish hiddur mitzvah, beautifying the mitzvah of celebrating Rosh Hashana. Yet the dish is not as impressive as the honey it contains.

Jews worldwide celebrate Rosh Hashana in some capacity. However, most do not dip apples in honey made by bees at the National Paris Opera. Dr. Wilf, noted honey connoisseur, is the exception. His globally-sourced honey collection is maintained through his own travels, though he admits to occasionally “cheating” and buying honey from somewhere he has never been—e.g., Tazmanian honey in Australia. For over 25 years, he has thoughtfully curated a selection to bring to the family’s Rosh Hashana celebrations And the breadth of the tradition has grown over time; everyone has carved out their own niche. The Wilfs’ daughter-in-law, Marisa, always brings new fruits; Dr. Wilf’s sister-in-law brings gefilte fish and there are sweet ginger cakes—a tradition from the Netherlands—made by Steven’s wife, Dr. Epstein-Wilf. Their children and children-in-law are also involved: Sara always bakes a challah while her husband, Lawrence, is in charge of cheese as he has a personal relationship with The Cheese Guy. Noam (son-in-law) took over the important task of bringing herring from Murray’s on the Upper West Side when Dr. Epstein-Wilf’s mother passed away. 

When I asked Dr. Wilf why he chose this honey dish in particular, he replied simply, “it’s beautiful.” It is true that a beautiful honey dish may make a Rosh Hashana table unique, but the honey itself is the source of rich tradition. The relative scarcity of High Holiday ritual items leads us to find small, meaningful opportunities for hiddur mitzvah. And the explicit focus on spirituality lets us know that the intent behind the beauty, the honey in the dish, is what the holidays are truly about.

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