A Gathering Voices post by Matt Goldberg
Are you celebrating Rosh Hashanah this year with Jewish friends and neighbors? If so, here are some facts about the holiday to help you prepare for the celebration:
1. The service at Synagogue is unique.
Jewish services differ (to varying degrees depending on the synagogue) from other faiths in that some of the prayer is communal where the congregation is united at the same point, usually singing a song, and some of the prayer is contemplative, where individuals will recite the same prayers, but usually quietly, to themselves, at their own pace. What makes Rosh Hashanah extra special is the blowing of the Shofar (or Ram’s horn) to announce the New Year (Rosh Hashanah translates as head of the year). It also announces the beginning of the “10 days,” a special time of introspection in the Jewish calendar between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which is a solemn day of atonement. The Shofar alerts people to use the next 10 days examine their behavior in the past year and consider how to improve it in the coming year.
2. Rosh Hashanah is a festive occasion.
Some Jewish holidays are solemn and serious in nature … Rosh Hashanah is not one of them. Smiles and songs are common. A nice way to greet someone Jewish on this occasion is “Hag Sameach,” “Good Yontif,” or simply, “Happy New Year.”
3. A Festive family meal is involved.
As with many Jewish holidays, a big festive meal is a part of the celebration, so be prepared for a three-hour meal. Unlike many other faiths, Jews thank God for food both before and after the meal. Families often come together for this holiday, and it is considered by many to be on par with Thanksgiving for family gatherings.
To symbolize the hope of a sweet New Year, a common food is apples dipped in honey. Other foods unique to Rosh Hashanah are round loaves of bread, or Challahs, often with raisins, the circular shape signifying the continuity of life.
5. Gifts for those celebrating.
Again, sweet food will always be popular as a gift.
6. It is the opening of the “10 days,” culminating in Yom Kippur.
As previously mentioned, Yom Kippur is the most solemn day of the Jewish year, a day of repentance, reflection, and forgiveness. According to Jewish tradition, we are all judged throughout the year, but these 10 days afford us the opportunity to make amends. Also according to Jewish tradition, God forgives for sins against God, but not for sins against man. What this means is that many Jewish people will bring up an old insult that they might have been guilty of in the past year, and ask friends and family for forgiveness.
7. It’s a two-day holiday.
Jewish holidays always begin at sundown and, depending on how observant a particular Jewish person is, it will start Wednesday evening September 24th, and end Friday night, September 26th (this year, leading directly into our Sabbath). More celebration time!
8. Rosh Hashanah kicks off a month of several holidays.
In addition to Rosh Hashanah leading into Yom Kippur, several other holidays follow as well. After Yom Kippur is the harvest festival of Sukkot, which includes Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. It will be a busy time for your Jewish friends and neighbors, but they will welcome your warm wishes and good tidings.
Matt Goldberg is the Director of the Community Relations for the Jewish community of Louisville. He deals with issues related to interfaith relations, Israel advocacy, school related issues, and social justice. You can follow him on Twitter at @JCRCLouisville.