At sundown on September 4, the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, begins.
Rosh Hashanah literally means “Head of the New Year.” But, this isn’t your typical New Year’s Eve celebration where you drink all you can and party. Instead, it marks the beginning of a 10-day period of prayer, personal self-reflection, and repentance, known as the Ten Days of Awe, beginning with Rosh Hashanah and concluding with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Even on such a serious holiday, there are elements of joy and celebration, and like all other Jewish holidays, Rosh Hashanah also has its own customs. Here are some of them and some of the symbols to know about this very important holiday.
Rosh Hashanah includes a ritual of blowing on the shofar or ram’s horn, to remind Jews about the significance of this day, and it serves as a wakeup call to repent. That’s why it is also known as the day of the blowing of the horn.
It is customary to extend good wishes for a good year. The typical greeting for Rosh Hashanah is the simple “L’shana Tovah” or Happy New Year.
The foods that are eaten have special meaning on this holiday. The challah (twisted egg bread) is baked into round loaves instead of the typical oblong loaf to represent the circle of life and the continuous seasons of the year. Apples are dipped in honey to symbolize the hopes and wishes for sweetness in the year ahead.
One popular custom is “asting off“ or Tashlikh, which is going to a flowing body of water like a creek, river or an ocean and symbolically throwing away your sins. This is done by emptying your pockets which are usually filled with small pieces of bread to cast off.
Rosh Hashanah emphasizes that repentance is possible. While the holiday is ultimately about asking God to forgive your sins, it’s also about seeking forgiveness from other human beings. To really repent, we have to go beyond just admitting our wrongs, to making a commitment to really change our behavior. This is a time for taking stock and asking ourselves what are we doing in our lives. How are we treating other people? Who have we hurt? What mistakes have we made? And it is time to ask them for forgiveness. It is ultimately an optimistic time because it emphasizes that all people are capable of not just exploring, but transforming, their lives.