Wish Your Jewish Friend a Happy New Year!

Jackie Vaks, Reporter

The month of September is very important for the Jewish people. This is the month that we celebrate our new year: Rosh Hashanah, following Yom Kippur: the religious fast of the new year. According to the Jewish calendar, we are in the year 5782. The Talmud, Midrash, and the Kabbalistic work, the Zohar, state that the date by which the Messiah must appear is 6,000 years from creation. According to tradition, the Hebrew calendar started at the time of Creation, placed at 3761 BCE. This is the holiest time of the year for the Jewish People and is full of family, prayer, and self-evaluation. 

Rosh Hashanah is one of the holiest days in the Jewish religion. It means “head of the year” or “first day of the year”. This holiday starts on the first day of Tishri, which is the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of the world and marks the beginning of the “Days of Awe”, a 10-day period of reflection and penance that ends with Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah 2021 starts on Monday, September 6, 2021, and ends on the evening of Wednesday, September 8, 2021. The exact date of Rosh Hashanah varies from year to year because it is based on the Hebrew calendar, but almost always falls in September or October. Work is forbidden, and religious Jews spend most of their holidays in the synagogue. Since the High Holy Day prayer service includes different liturgical texts, songs, and customs, the rabbis and their congregation read a special prayer book called machzor during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The shofar is a trumpet made of ram horns and is an essential and iconic part of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The wailing of ancient musical instruments called for repentance and reminds the Jews that God is their king. Tradition requires the shofar to be blown in four sets of notes by the rabbi. 

After the religious services are over, many Jews return home to enjoy a festive meal full of symbolism and tradition. Some people choose to wear new or special clothes and decorate their tables with exquisite tablecloths and tableware in recognition of the importance of Rosh Hashanah. The meal usually begins with a ritual of lighting two candles and provides food that represents positive wishes for the new year. One of the most popular customs on Rosh Hashanah is eating apple slices dipped in honey, sometimes after saying a special prayer. Ancient Jews believed that apples had healing properties, while honey symbolized the sweetness of the new year. For the same reason, Rosh Hashanah meals generally include a variety of desserts.

Yom Kippur is considered the holiest holiday in the Jewish religion. It marks the culmination of 10 days of awe, a time of reflection and repentance after Rosh Hashanah. According to tradition, God determines the fate of all on Yom Kippur and therefore encourages the Jews to make reparations and ask for forgiveness for the sins committed in the past year. The holiday is observed with a 25-hour fast and special religious service. The Torah commands all Jewish adults (except the sick, old, and pregnant women) to abstain from eating and drinking between sundown on the evening before Yom Kippur and nightfall the next day. Fasting is considered a cleansing of the body and mind, not a punishment. Religious Jews watch out for additional restrictions on bathing, washing, using cosmetics, and wearing leather shoes. On the eve of Yom Kippur, family and friends gather to enjoy a delicious feast, which must be completed before sunset. The idea is to collect energy for 25 hours of fasting. After the last Yom Kippur service, many people go home to enjoy a festive meal.  It traditionally consists of breakfast-like comfort foods such as blintzes, noodle pudding, and baked goods.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the two “Sacred Days” in the Jewish religion. They correlate together to complete the Jewish New Year. These holidays are solely to remind us that we all have good in us. Please take this new year to spend quality time with your family, loved ones, and friends. I hope everyone has a sweet New Year!