Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish New Year, begins this evening. As on the Hebrew calendar, our days–and thus our holidays–actually begin at sundown https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_calendar. This auspicious yearly ritual looks very different than the one we celebrate on the Gregorian calendar. Jews follow the lunisolar Hebrew calendar. (In a secular world, this can cause the date to appear random every year which can get confusing!) We will also recognize the year we are welcoming as 5783.
You may have heard this time described as High Holy Days because this season is auspicious for us. It doesn’t conclude with a party but rather an invitation into a period of reflection. I have always loved that it falls in synchronicity with the changing leaves where I live in the midwest. The air is cooler now and I feel the need for life itself to slow down. A perfect time for contemplation.
You may be familiar with the term “High Holidays” as well. The difference is that the former emphasizes the personal and introspective aspects of this period. In contrast, “Holidays” suggest a time of communal celebrations of events. This also happens to be appropriate in the history of the Jewish people).
I use the term “family” loosely, as a family includes anyone in need of a place at a table, especially on the High Holy Days. Usually, we eat a traditional meal that includes apples and honey (for sweetness) and a round, braided challah (egg bread). Some believe this represents a crown for God or the cyclical nature of the year. As one year draws to a close, another year begins, and so the circle continues https://jamiegeller.com/holidays/rosh-hashanah-challahs/. Our table is typically decorated with pomegranates, too, as a symbol of righteousness, knowledge, and wisdom. They are said to have 613 seeds, each representing one of the commandments of the Hebrew Bible.
We often come together then as a community in our temples or synagogues (actually, many people only show up on the High Holy Days). We begin to look closely at ourselves, our thoughts, and our own actions over the last year.
Here we listen to the sound of the shofar–a ram’s horn that only plays when the air blows out. This is a symbol to turn inward to fix ourselves so we can then burst out and contribute to the world. (How powerful and relevant is that?) In our synagogue, there are usually three shofars spread across the sanctuary. Vibrations resonate somewhat surprisingly from all around us. It is an honor to be chosen to stand before the congregation in this way.
We say “Shanah Tovah” to wish each other “a good new year”. Sometimes, we add words like “Umetukah” (my present, personal favorite). The greeting becomes an offer for “a good and SWEET new year”.