Israel rep remarks on similarity of New Year celebrations

Taipei, Jan. 29 (CNA) Although Taiwan and Israel are separated by geographic and cultural distance, the two countries share some similar ways of celebrating their respective New Year holidays. The Lunar New Year break in Taiwan is traditionally a time when local people return to their hometowns to celebrate with their families. Similarly, the Jewish New Year, which usually falls in September and is called Rosh Hashana, is "a very family-oriented celebration," said Simona Halperin, Israel's representative to Taiwan. The concept of spending time with family and traveling with loved ones is very similar between the two cultures, Halperin said of the different lunar New Year traditions. When it comes to celebrations, food is important for both countries. "The idea is that the way your New Year begins is the way the whole year is going to go," she said of Israeli Rosh Hashana foods. The traditional snack for the holiday is apples and honey. "We dip it in honey and we say, 'Let it be a sweet year,'" Halperin said. "If the New Year begins sweet, the year will be sweet." Another common fruit that Israeli people have during Rosh Hashana is pomegranates, a fruit that has many seeds, to symbolize the numerous blessings of the coming year, she said. As for main dishes, Israeli observers traditionally have fish for their New Year's dinner -- just like the Taiwanese during the (Chinese) Lunar New Year. Fish usually lay many eggs, Halperin explained. "It's a symbol of fertility and growth," she added. The reason in Taiwan is similar. Fish is a symbol of surplus or abundance because the Chinese word for "fish" -- "yu" -- has the same pronunciation as the word for "surplus." What is different is that Israelis prepare beef head for the New Year, Halperin said. "The idea is that you want to become the head, not the tail." But what the two holidays share is that the idea behind the food is a wish for good luck in the coming year. Halperin, who took up her post in Taiwan four years ago, said she and her family will spend Taiwan's Lunar New Year holiday with Taiwanese friends. She said that this will be the first time that she, her husband and their children will have a real taste of Taiwanese celebrations for the Lunar New Year as they spend the occasion with a Taiwanese family. (By Elaine Hou)