A few years ago I decided to spruce up our Rosh Hashanah dinner with a few more of the symbolic foods of Yom Tov. We had always had the traditional apple dipped in honey for a good and sweet new year. What more tasty delights might lie in store?

To my wife Kim’s horror, I returned from the shops with something quite unexpected that had certainly not featured on the list of the last-minute items she had needed me to get. A raw fish head. “No!” she said “now you are taking things too far. We are NOT having that thing on our table tonight.”

After some cajoling, she agreed I could bring it out for a brief appearance at the appropriate time as long as it went into the bin straight afterwards. And so the fish head made its very short debut as I dutifully recited the accompanying wish for the year ahead: “May it be Your will, Hashem our God and the God of our forefathers, that we be as the head and not as the tail”.

More recently as I start to make Yom Tov preparations again, I have been thinking about the relevance of the fish head as a symbol on Rosh Hashanah. Surely a fish needs its tail as much as its head? We have gone through a great many difficulties over the last two years in a complex world. Likening these challenges to water resistance, we have had to constantly use our proverbial “tails” (our skills, resources and personal fortitude) to be able to propel ourselves through the water. So why then should we seek to be “as the head and not as the tail?”

I think the answer is a matter of perspective. Whilst, to be sure, resilience is an important quality, we shouldn’t confuse surviving with thriving. The tail of the fish may propel it through the water, but it is the head of the fish with its eye on future opportunities that gives the fish its vision, its direction and sense of mission and purpose. This awareness is particularly important at this time of year, and even more so this year because so much of our energies over the past two years have by necessity been engaged in survival mode.

Rosh Hashanah is a period of renewal and growth. May we take this time to consider our goals and objectives, to contemplate with optimism the many opportunities that lie on the horizon, and feel empowered to choose our course for the year ahead with the benefit of a fresh perspective. May we be as the head and not as the tail.

Wishing you all Lots of Love and a Shanah Tovah u’MeTukah!

Lance Katz
United Jewish Campaign