For many people, fall is a time of year to slow down and begin reflecting on how they want to remember the year. For Jews, fall marks the beginning. The beginning of a new year. Our High Holidays.
As the Jewish calendar is lunar-based calendar, it seems that our holiday, festivals and celebrations jump around on the calendar. In fact, on the lunar calendar they virtually unchanged from the earliest recorded celebrations. This year the Jewish New Year will begin at sundown on September 8th. All Jewish holidays begin at sundown, in accordance with the beginning of our ‘day’ based on a lunar cycle.
Jewish New Year celebration encompass two holy days – Rosh Hashana (pronounce: roe-sh ha-shah-nah) and Yom Kippur (pronounce: yoem kee-pooh-ur) Rosh Hashanah (some omit the last h) literally means head (rosh) of the year (ha shanah) and this year will mark the year 5771. These two celebrations are the most holy days for Jews worldwide. Many Jews will spend their day in worship reflecting on the year to come. Unlike other celebrations of the new year where the primary focus is on rejoicing, Rosh Hashanah is a time for solemn reflection and a day of memorial. Rosh Hashana is a day when the Almighty sits in judgment of all creatures on earth and grants forgiveness to all.
Yom Kippur means Day of Atonement. It is a day to reflect upon our sins and seek forgiveness for our transgressions not only to G-D, but to those here on Earth that we have wronged. Of all the celebrations of the Jewish people, Yom Kippur is our most holy day. It is our most serious holiday and is reflected by the solemn tone of the service.
Yet, not unlike most Jewish holidays there are special sights, sounds and smells associated with these two very important celebrations. The first is a shofar (pronounced: show-far). A shofar is usually a rams horn, although there are several specific animals other than a ram from which a shofar can be made. It symbolizes the ram that was sacrificed by Abraham in Isaac’s place. It’s sound is a call to all G-D’s people to join in worship and remind of of this Day of Judgment. The final blast of the shofar is a sound to behold. It is one long blast, often lasting up to 2 minutes by the most adept shofar blower. In most congregations it will be a man who blows the shofar. It is not an easy instrument to sound!
For these High Holidays, there is special clothing for the Torah. The Torah is the ‘old testament’, the first five books of Moses. They are handwritten and held in sacred regard among the Jewish people. To see each Torah outfitted in it’s fanciest garb is a symbol that this holiday is something special. Most often, they the Torah is dressed in white.
As a child, my favorite part of the High Holidays was always the round challah, sliced apples and honey that were served at Rosh Hashnah and Yom Kippur meals. These two holidays are observed with the presentation of a round challah, symbolizing life and the universe. Often, this challah has raisins to make it sweeter. And the apples and honey are further symbols of the sweetness the new year holds. And, of course there are the pomegranates. Sweet and tart and so much work to eat, but so rewarding. Oh, the memories!
I wish you all a L’shanah tovah (pronounce: Luh-shah-nah-tove-ah) (‘for a good year’). This is the traditional greeting shared among Jews during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. And at the end of Yom Kippur, the shofar is sounded one last time in a long blast. We end by saying ‘Next Year in Jerusalem’, as a way to remind ourselves that we continue to strive for a holy land of peace for all Jewish people.