CHICAGO — The Jewish mother is an iconic figure in pop culture, as interpreted by entertainers from Woody Allen to Jerry Seinfeld, and food is big part of the stereotype.
So, making restaurant reservations for the Jewish New Year — instead of brisket and matzo ball soup — feels tantamount to trashing tradition for some.
But with the holiday arriving on the heels of Labor Day on Wednesday at sundown — and 60 percent of women working outside the home — more families are marking Rosh Hashana in a way that would have been unthinkable to an earlier generation: eating out.
Lettuce Entertain You, for example, is offering Rosh Hashana dinners at five of its restaurants, from Lincoln Park to Lincolnshire, up from just two sites last year. Several locations have been booked for days.
It isn't just that families are taking their rituals to restaurants — Thanksgiving has certainly been gaining momentum for years. But that's a holiday focused on food and football. Rosh Hashana is a time for reflection, not revelry.
"If we went out and were having Italian, I'd feel very uncomfortable," said Karen Lasky, who will be at Di Pescara in Northbrook. "But we're having all the traditional foods ... and it's just easier."
For two decades, the Glencoe resident cooked, baked and cleaned for weeks, as her mother and grandmother did before her.
However, a couple years ago, her husband suggested that they go out — and now there's no turning back.
"When it's in my home, I'm in the kitchen," Lasky said. "This way, we all get to be together as a family ... and there's no clean-up."
Despite all the practical reasons, some women wouldn't dream of outsourcing the holidays.
"I could never give this up," said Barbara Hoffman, a social worker who was planning dinner for 25 at her Highland Park home Wednesday evening despite putting in hours at her office. "As long as I'm healthy, I'll continue to do this."
For others, though, the only way they can connect humble 19th century fare to 21st century life is if someone else stands over the stove. Who has days to grate apples for the cakes that symbolize the hope for a sweet year?
Joe Decker, chef/partner at Wildfire, is excited about bringing family recipes — such as kugel, a creamy noodle pudding — to a menu better known for its steaks and martinis.
"It rekindles a lot of memories for me," Decker said. " I think my mother would be super proud."
But others still try to silence that inner voice that says they're cheating, say restaurateurs.
"Customers will call up and say, 'I don't feel well this year' or 'My daughter-in-law doesn't want to mess up her house, '" said Lester Schlan, owner of Max and Benny's, which expects to serve 250 holiday meals Thursday. "Everyone feels like they have to explain."
Not Mitzi Kray of Northbrook, who will ring in the new year at Max and Benny's, as she has for the last couple years. Not long ago, she used to host a multi-course feast, including three soups. But at age 86, she's turning the apron over to someone else.
"The food here is delicious, the ambience is warm and we're with family. Isn't that what the holidays are all about?"