The 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, are, in theory, a week-plus of contemplation, reflection and reverie. There are those who greet one another with a Gmar chatima tova – a wish that one be sealed in the Book of Life, in a reference to the repeated prayer said during the long fast day.

It’s an apt saying, because what else does one wish for besides health, a long life and happiness? But if you’re not in the habit of thinking about the Book of Life, there are other ways to contemplate this season and your wishes for the new year.

Examining the quill (photo credit: Meir Partush/Flash 90)

Examining the spiky sea quill (photo credit: Meir Partush/Flash 90)

1) Fall is the season of the sea quill, or hatzav, a tall, conical, white flower that has attained iconic status in Israel. I’m heading out Friday on a gan outing with my kids to look at a field of quills in a nearby kibbutz, an annual trip in these parts. The spiky flower was, according to the Israel Wildflower database, mentioned in Tractate Baba Batra in the Talmud for its use in delineating the land of Israel (it has deep roots and served as markers for plot boundaries). Another Talmudic fable tells that Noah took quills into the Ark as food for the deer — deer like its leaves — although some field animals avoid eating them, because of the needle-like crystals in those leaves. It’s all part of local tradition, as the saying goes: “The sea quill blooms and the summer ends.”

Biking in the refurbished Neve Tzedek neighborhood (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash 90)

Biking in the renewed Neve Tzedek neighborhood (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash 90)

2) For a more urban kind of pre-Yom Kippur outing, head to Tel Aviv, where Midreshet Yaffo, a center for tours with a Jewish spirit, offers its own version of the Jerusalem selihot tour — guided walks to see and listen to the penitential prayers said at this time of year. These are, instead, a selection of tours along the narrow alleyways of Jaffa and Neve Tzedek, getting to know the first settlers of the city’s first neighborhoods, where they lived and where some of them prayed. One tour includes a stop at the Libyan immigrants’ synagogue in Old Jaffa, while another walks in the footsteps of Rabbi Kook, Israel’s first chief rabbi, who lived in Tel Aviv. “We want to bring Israelis something different,” said Shai Tovel, from the Keren Kehilot Foundation, which is working with Midreshet Yaffo, “offering a tour that will connect them to the traditions and history found literally under our eyes.” Tours cost NIS 25 for children, NIS 35 for adults, NIS 850 for groups of 40. Call 052-813-2229 for reservations.

Early morning selichot at the Western Wall (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash 90)

Early morning ‘selihot’ at the Western Wall (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash 90)

3) For a traditional Jerusalem selihot tour, consider joining the Tower of David Museum version, which can include a ticket to the Night Spectacular light show followed by an experiential walk through the Old City that concludes at the Western Wall. The walk has been featured throughout September, and there are two more dates before Yom Kippur: on Thursday night, September 20 at 10 p.m. (the light show is at 9 p.m.) and Monday night, September 24 at 11:30 p.m. (the light show is at 10:30 p.m.). The tour takes about two hours, and when including the Night Spectacular, costs NIS 110, or NIS 70 for only the tour (discounts for students and seniors, advance registration necessary, call *2884).

Beit Maariv, currently the site of protesting employers, soon to be the location of the Bina Yeshiva's Yom Kippur services (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash 90)

Beit Maariv, currently the site of protesting employers, soon to be the location of the Bina Yeshiva’s Yom Kippur services (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash 90)

4) If you’re trying to find an alternative kind of Yom Kippur service, head to Bina, the secular yeshiva in Tel Aviv that is holding its Kol Nidre and Ne’ila services, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, respectively, on the roof of the Maariv building (an interesting location, perhaps, considering the ongoing protests over the sale of the Hebrew tabloid). The daytime hours of the fast will be engaged in examining aspects of Jewish and Hebrew culture as found in prayers and poems (in Hebrew and English). Kol Nidre, Tuesday, 5 p.m., roof of Beit Maariv; Yom Kippur, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., at Bina, 61 Yesod Hamaaleh; Ne’ila, Wednesday, 4 p.m., roof of Beit Maariv.

Silan, made from dates (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash 90)

Silan is made from dates (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

5) If the kitchen is your sanctuary, try making something soft, white and pure for this spiritual season. Foodie magazine Al Hashulhan is featuring a silan panacotta made from goat’s milk, telling readers that the sweetness of the silan nicely offsets the tart taste of the milk.

Silan panacotta (serves 6-8)

  • 3 containers (750 ml) of sweet cream
  • 2 cups goat’s milk (can also substitute cow’s milk)
  • ¾ cup silan honey
  • 14 grams gelatin
  • 6-7 individual tinfoil pans

1) Boil all ingredients, except for the gelatin and silan, together in pot. Lower the flame and cook for 15 minutes at a low simmer.

2) Put gelatin in a small ball and add 3-4 teaspoons of water. Wait five minutes and add gelatin to rest of ingredients. Remove from stove top, mix and then strain the mixture.

3) Spread some silan in each individual pan, spreading the cream mixture on top of the silan. Wait until the mixture reaches room temperature and cover each pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

4) Flip each panacotta onto an individual plate, spreading a bit of silan on top before serving.