Rosh Hashanah (literally, "Head of the Year") refers to the celebration of the Jewish New Year. The holiday is observed on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, which usually falls in September or October (this year it starts on the 29th of September, which is next Monday), and marks the beginning of a ten-day period of prayer, self-examination and repentance, which culminate on the fast day of Yom Kippur. These ten days are referred to as Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe or the High Holy Days. While there are elements of joy and celebration, Rosh Hashanah is a deeply religious occasion. The customs and symbols of Rosh Hashanah reflect the holiday's dual emphasis, happiness and humility. Special customs observed on Rosh Hashanah include; the sounding of the shofar, using round challah, eating apples and honey (and other sweet foods) for a sweet new year. There is also a customary service observed before Rosh Hashanah. S'lichot, meaning forgiveness, refers to the penitential prayers recited by Jews prior to the onset of the High Holiday season. It is a solemn and fitting preparation for ten days of reflection and self-examination. We have all called it "Rush a-homa," as this is a holiday where you have to be home by sunset but there is, however, one important similarity between the Jewish New Year and the American one: Many Americans use the New Year as a time to plan a better life, making "resolutions." Likewise, the Jewish New Year is a time to begin introspection, looking back at the mistakes of the past year and planning the changes to make in the new year. CHICKEN AND MATZO BALL SOUP Recipe courtesy Second Avenue Deli INGREDIENTS 1 pound chicken parts (wings, necks, and bones) 2 stalks celery, including leafy tops, cut into 3-inch pieces 1 whole chicken Salt and pepper, to rub inside chicken 1 large whole onion, unpeeled 1 large whole carrot, peeled 1 medium whole parsnip, peeled 2 teaspoons salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper 1 bunch dill, tied with a string Matzo Balls, recipe follows METHOD Pour 12 cups of cold water into a large stockpot, and add the chicken parts and celery. Bring to a boil. Meanwhile, rub the inside of the whole chicken with the salt and pepper. Add the chicken to the pot, cover, reduce heat, and simmer gently for 45 minutes. Do not let the soup come to a rolling boil. Test chicken with a fork to see if it is tender and fully cooked; then remove it from the pot, and set aside on a large platter. Leave chicken parts in the pot. Add onion, carrot, parsnip, salt and pepper. Let the soup simmer for another 1 hour and 15 minutes. When chicken cools, remove skin and bones and cut meat into bite-size pieces. You can add it to the soup, just before serving, or save it for chicken salad. Strain the soup, and discard all solids except the carrot. Drop in the dill for 1 minute before serving and remove. Add more salt and pepper, to taste. Slice carrot and return to the soup. Also add the chicken pieces, if desired. The soup can be served with noodles, rice, or kasha and a matzo ball. The soup tastes best the following day. Allow the soup to cool and skim the fat from the top. MATZO BALLS Yield: about 12 to 14 INGREDIENTS 1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon salt 4 large eggs 1/3 cup Schmaltz and Gribines. This recipe uses the fat and skin from about 4 chickens. It will keep in your freezer. For even more flavorful schmaltz, add a few cloves garlic. 4 cups chicken fat and skin, cut into 1/2-inch pieces or smaller Kosher salt Pinch pepper 1 cup onion, sliced into rings about 1/8-inch thick 2 cloves garlic, minced, optional Wash fat and skin well in a colander, and pat dry. Place in a heavy skillet, and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Cook, uncovered, over low heat (you can turn heat up a bit once the fat has begun melting). When the fat starts to melt and gets slightly brown, add onions and garlic cloves, if using, and continue cooking until onions and cracklings are golden brown and crunchy. Remove from heat and let cool partially. Then strain over a bowl to remove onions and cracklings, and refrigerate them in a covered glass jar. Pour schmaltz into another jar, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use. Yield: about 2 cups 1/4 teaspoon pepper 1 tablespoon baking powder 1 1/3 cups matzo meal METHOD Fill a large, wide stockpot 3/4 full with water. Add 1 tablespoon salt, and bring to a rapid boil. Meanwhile, crack eggs into a large bowl and beat thoroughly. Beat in schmaltz, 1/4 teaspoon salt, pepper, and baking powder. Slowly fold in matzo meal, mixing vigorously until completely blended. Wet your hands, and folding the mixture in your palms, shape perfect balls about 1 1/4 inches in diameter (they will double in size when cooked). Gently place the matzo balls in the boiling water, and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 25 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and place 1 or 2 in each bowl of soup. AND FINALLY... Meyer, a lonely widower, was walking home one night when he passed a pet store (perhaps a PetSmart) and heard a squawking voice shouting out in Yiddish, "Quawwwwk ... vus machst du ... yeah, du ... outside, standing like a schlemiel ... eh?" Meyer rubbed his eyes and ears. He couldn't believe it. The proprietor sprang out of the door and grabbed Meyer by the sleeve. "Come in here, fella, and check out this parrot." Meyer stood in front of an African Grey that cocked his little head and said, "Vus? Ir kent reddin Yiddish?" Meyer turned excitedly to the store owner. "He speaks Yiddish?" In a matter of moments, Meyer had placed five hundred dollars down on the counter and carried the parrot in his cage away with him. All night he talked with the parrot in Yiddish. He told the parrot about his father's adventures coming to America, about how beautiful his mother was when she was a young bride, about his family, about his years of working in the garment center, about Florida. The parrot listened and commented. They shared some walnuts. The parrot told him of living in the pet store, how he hated the weekends. Finally, they both went to sleep. Next morning, Meyer began to put on his tefillin, all the while saying his prayers. The parrot demanded to know what he was doing, and when Meyer explained, the parrot wanted to do it too. Meyer went out and handmade a miniature set of tefillin for the parrot. The parrot wanted to learn to daven, so Meyer taught him how read Hebrew, and taught him every prayer in the Siddur with the appropriate nussach for the daily services. Meyer spent weeks and months sitting and teaching the parrot the Torah, Mishnah and Gemara. In time, Meyer came to love and count on the parrot as a friend and a Jew. On the morning of Rosh Hashanah, Meyer rose, got dressed and was about to leave when the parrot demanded to go with him. Meyer explained that Shul was not a place for a bird, but the parrot made a terrific argument and was carried to Shul on Meyer's shoulder. Needless to say, they made quite a sight when they arrived at the Shul, and Meyer was questioned by everyone, including the Rabbi and Cantor, who refused to allow a bird into the building on the High Holy Days. However, Meyer convinced them to let him in this one time, swearing that the parrot could daven. Wagers were made with Meyer. Thousands of dollars were bet that the parrot could NOT daven, could not speak Yiddish or Hebrew, etc. All eyes were on the African Grey during services. The parrot perched on Meyer's shoulder as one prayer and song passed - Meyer heard not a peep from the bird. He began to become annoyed, slapping at his shoulder and mumbling under his breath, "Daven!" Nothing. "Daven ... feigelleh, please! You can daven, so daven ... come on, everybody's looking at you!" Nothing. After Rosh Hashanah services were concluded, Meyer found that he owed his Shul buddies and the Rabbi over four thousand dollars. He marched home quite upset, saying nothing. Finally several blocks from the Shul, the bird, happy as a lark, began to sing an old Yiddish song. Meyer stopped and looked at him. "You miserable bird, you cost me over four thousand dollars. Why? After I made your tefillin, taught you the morning prayers, and taught you to read Hebrew and the Torah. And after you begged me to bring you to Shul on Rosh Hashanah, why? Why did you do this to me?" "Don't be a schlemiel," the parrot replied. "You know what odds we'll get at Yom Kippur?!"