The month of Cheshvan, which continues through Nov. 8, is the only month in the Hebrew calendar without holidays. This gives us ample time, in our temperate climate, to focus our energy on preserving the harvest.
Above: In the Hebrew month of Cheshvan, humans and bees turn to working to preserve food from the harvest.
There is precedence for this both in our history and in the natural world. It would have been a busy and anxious time for our ancestors, preparing to make it through the colder season ahead, but a bonding tradition, nonetheless. Honeybees, too, are working together to preserve the summer’s bounty for winter survival.
In the wake of the High Holidays, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, many of us are spiritually drained. We put away our jars of honey and disassemble our sukkahs, putting a majority of our annual Jewish holiday activity behind us.
The physicality of this work in Cheshvan is a welcome shift from the headiness of Tishrei. Without any holidays to observe, we are free to return to our gardens for late harvests of squash, corn and tomatoes. We can take to our kitchens to ferment, dehydrate, can and freeze the excess. We store bubbly jars of wild yeast-fermented wine and lacto-fermented kosher dills with hopes of stretching fresh summer flavors through winter.
This activity is mirrored in the natural world, too, with the example of the honeybee fresh in our minds from Rosh Hashanah. In their hives, the honeybees are doing their own food preservation. The nectar they collect is spit back out, along with preserving enzymes, into the cells of honeycomb. It may sound unhygienic, but all products made by honeybees are antimicrobial and beneficial to our health. This mixture is fanned by the bees’ wings, causing evaporation, and when it reaches a water content of 33 percent, the bees cap it with wax, preserving it as a source of carbohydrates for the colony.
Food preservation is a cultural tradition many of us have lost touch with over the generations. Our people’s survival once depended on these skills, so many of which are lost on us today. Now, these tasks are largely outsourced, separating us from the joy of this work and the connection our Jewish identity food traditions can bring. During a month when we may not be coming together as a community as frequently, we can continue to build and preserve our culture, following the examples of our ancestors and creatures like the honeybee.
As we bring these processes back into our homes and communities, we can reconnect with ancestral traditions, with natural cycles and with each other. Invite friends and family together for some fall canning or pickling and tap into the joy this physical work brings. You will be in good company.
Carly Sugar is a food grower and educator, examining the intersection of Judaism and food systems. She lives and works collaboratively with other artists and creatives as part of the Glastonbury Collective in Detroit’s Rosedale Park. She is director of Yad Ezra’s Giving Gardens.