photo: Hofstra Hillel
Rosh Hashana, also known as the Jewish New Year, was celebrated this past week. One of the iconic symbols of the holiday, is honey, which is eaten with challah and apples. Honey has important meaning for the celebrants of Rosh Hashana. Honey is prominently displayed on the dinner table and on greeting cards; people traditionally wish each other a sweet new year. Honey is the symbol for hope, happiness, success and sweetness. This year, year 5771, on Tuesday evening, Saul's Deli, in Berkeley, California, is hosting a panel entitled Adventures in the Honey Harvest to get people to think more about where their honey comes from and what the new year would be without honey. With honey bees suffering from colony collapse disorder, there has been a rise in urban beekeeping. In New York City, with the beekeeping ban lifted this past March, there has been a buzz of bees on rooftop farms in Brooklyn and throughout the five boroughs. In San Francisco, although there was an unfortunate insecticide this summer at Hayes Valley Farm, other urban beekeepers in the Bay Area have kept busy at work. At the panel at Saul's on Tuesday, Bay Area urban beekeepers such as Jen Radtke, beekeeping instructor and co-owner of Biofuel Oasis, will join Helene Marshall, of Marshall's Farm Honey, to discuss: "catching swarm stories, lessons learned stories, urban stories, pollination stories, and love stories." Peter Levitt, co-owner of Saul's Restaurant and Deli, who rounds off the panel, is also a backyard beekeeper. High-volume urban, raw beekeeping takes place all over the Bay Area, and the panel will let you know how you can get some honey on a regular basis.
Also in response to colony collapse disorder, many people have been moving away from industrial honey for the holiday and choosing organic, local honey that coincides with their values. By choosing raw honey produced by a small-scale apiary that supports healthy bees, one can help reverse the bee population decline.
On Wednesday, before the holiday, I stopped by a honey booth at my local farmers' market and was overwhelmed with the varieties and differences in flavor in the honeys on offer. Most honey sold in grocery stores is made by commercially kept bees fed sugar-water which has a generic flavor. Organic honey reflects the diversity of the flora it was pollinated from as well as the season. Spring honey is light, floral, thin and firm. Fall honey has darker notes and a rich flavor. At the booth in my local farmer's market, there was: wildflower honey, alfalfa honey, blackberry honey, citrus honey, clover honey and raw honey. The talk at Saul's will conclude with a honey tasting and an explanation of this array of honey flavors.
Honey has been used symbolically throughout the ages by many religions. In addition to Rosh Hashana, Jews also refer to Israel as the land of "milk and honey". The Koran assigns honey with attributes of a therapeutic elixir and ancient Egyptians used honey for various rituals. This year when Jews across the world eat apples and honey, some may think a bit longer about where their honey came from, especially if it came from the backyard of a neighbor.