Rosh Hashanah (literally translated head of the year) is the Jewish New Year. This year, we celebrate this high holy day at nightfall on September 18th. You may be asking, Why would anyone celebrate New Years in Fall?” The reason is that this holiday is on the first day of the year of the Hebrew calendar. The Hebrew calendar is different from the Gregorian calendar. As a matter of fact, the Hebrew calendar is further ahead and we will already be entering year 5781. Rosh Hashanah always falls on the 1st day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei and it commemorates the creation of the world.
Return to Your Best Self
As opposed to the traditional New Year’s Eve on December 31st, there is no countdown to midnight or resolutions to lose weight. It is more about reflecting on your past year’s behavior. However, you do make an effort to become better, to return to your best self (a principle called Teshuvah). Rosh Hashanah is basically considered the day the world was created which we celebrate by becoming better people. On this day we ask ourselves, Am I the best version of myself I can possibly be?
Sinanim: Rosh Hashanah Foods With a Symbolic Meaning
A common greeting for this holiday is Shana Tova U’metukah which means a good and sweet year. But most people will just say, Shana Tova. To get an extra sweet start to this new year, it is customary to dip slices of apple into honey. Another important Rosh Hashanah food tradition is to serve food that is round. The traditional Jewish egg bread (challah) is normally a longer braid loaf but on Rosh Hashanah, everyone serves round challah to symbolize eternal life. According to Gil Marks in The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, the abundance of seeds, nestled into a white membrane and encased in a protective and leathery skin, is associated with the 613 commandments in the Torah. They serve as symbols of righteousness and fruitfulness, as expressed in the Rosh Hashanah expression, May we be full of merits like the pomegranate (is full of seeds).
If you would like to learn more about the symbolism of Rosh Hashanah foods, you can check out this video from Modern Orthodox actress Mayim Bialik who you may know better as Amy from The Big Bang Theory.
Shofar, sho good!
The shofar is a ram’s horn that is blown in synagogue on Rosh Hashanah. If you would like to see how this looks and sounds, you can check out this video.
Cast Away Your Sins During Taschlich Service
While Rosh Hashanah is really two days long, most people in the Western world will only go to synagogue for the first day. After service, the day usually ends with a special service called Taschlich. This service is held by a body of water and Jews take a round piece of bread that they throw into the water piece by piece. All of these little pieces symbolize their sins that they are throwing away in order to become a better person.
Celebrating the Jewish New Year is going to be a little bit different as a lot of synagogues will opt for online services or become creative with indoor and outdoor scenarios. But I am still looking forward to spending this meaningful time with my loved ones. Shana Tova U’metukah to all!