On a sunny September day in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, local Jewish families gathered at the Chabad Jewish Centre to prepare for Rosh Hashanah by sharing in a process that is at once local and intertwined with millennia of Jewish tradition: extracting honey from beehives.
Rabbi Raphael Kats, who directs the Chabad Jewish Centre of Saskatoon with his wife, Sarah, recently installed an apiary at the Centre, and is using the hives to teach local Jewish children about Rosh Hashanah — and to ensure that the entire community has what they need for a sweet new year.
The vast prairies of Saskatchewan abound with wildflowers, and the province is responsible for some 25% of Canada’s honey production, so bringing the experience to the Jewish community in Saskatoon was a natural step for the Katses, who have never shied away from a hands-on approach to kosher food in their central Canadian home.
With the nearest Jewish communities many hours away by car, kosher provisions can be tough to obtain, and the Katses have become an invaluable resource to the community with their resourcefulness and determination to enable and enhance Jewish life.
Rabbi Raphael Kats will often drive hours to provide kosher supervision the processing of fish, oil and many other foods. The Katses offer homemade challah to the community each week. And now, they’ve harvested nearly 300 pounds of honey, which will be shared with local Jewish families in advance of Rosh Hashanah, when Jewish people traditionally dip a sweet apple into honey and pray for a sweet new year.
As families gathered in an outbuilding at Chabad, Rabbi Kats — assisted by Cliff, a beekeeper friend of his from a couple hours north of town — brought in trays of honeycomb (after carefully brushing the bees off first). Each child got to help remove the wax caps covering the comb’s cells, and watched as the honey was extracted, strained, and bottled.
The rabbi was everywhere, offering words of encouragement to the kids and urging some especially enthusiastic kids to work more slowly and deliberately. Interwoven in his explanation of the steps in extracting honey were lessons about Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
“It’s kind of like Rosh Hashanah, when we’re crowning Hashem as king — the bees have a queen,” Kats said.
The interactive, hands-on learning experience was one the children will long remember — and each left with their own jar of honey they’d helped extract, all set for a sweet new year.