Rosh Hashana From Israel!

By Lily Sironi

Monday, Sept. 6, was the beginning of the Jewish new year called Rosh Hashana, which is translated “Head of the Year.” The Jewish calendar marks the anniversary of the creation of man in Genesis. Jewish sages assert that God was not known by the title of King until He created his highest creation, mankind, thus finishing Creation.

The celebration begins with a shofar’s blast to awaken people from slumber. Then, Jewish families around the world celebrate this two-day holiday with numerous large meals filled with biblical symbols. Since the Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, and the Jewish people track their holidays every year based on the cycle of the moon, it was tricky in ancient times to pinpoint the exact start of Rosh Hashana since it must fall on the first of the month. Therefore, the holiday is celebrated for two days to ensure that there is no chance of missing it.

I was blessed to enjoy the first night of Rosh Hashana with my dear friends the Orensteins. They are an observant Jewish family who have semi-adopted me since I have been living in Jerusalem. I arrived at their home for the meal and was greeted by a large table of delicious-looking food which all had a special role to play in the significance of the dinner. Jewish families the world over begin the meal by blessing the wine and the bread, which in the case of Rosh Hashana, is a special circle braided challah symbolizing the eternal cycle of life.

Unlike a typical Shabbat meal where the challah is topped with salt, on Rosh Hashana, it is topped with honey to symbolize the wish for a sweet new year. Jewish families often eat sweet foods like apples and honey, dates, figs, and pineapples in keeping with the theme of a sweet new year. The Orensteins said a special blessing over each of their children that they would be the head and not the tail and that they would grow in their devotion to God in the new year. The dinner is a happy occasion of looking forward to the coming year and thanking the Lord for His goodness during the past one.

Although Rosh Hashana is usually seen as a joyful holiday, it is also a somber one, as the Jews believe it is the day that God inscribes a person’s name in His book, thus determining their destiny for the coming year. This means that Rosh Hashana begins a period known as the Ten Days of Awe that lead up to Yom Kippur when the judgment that was written on Rosh Hashana is sealed by the Lord. The period between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is the most crucial 10 days of the year for the Jewish nation as people focus on asking forgiveness of those in their lives they have wronged.

Children in school write little notes to anyone they need to ask forgiveness from and pass them out ahead of the holiday, similar to American children passing out notes on Valentine’s Day. Judaism teaches that there are sins committed against God that must be atoned for through prayer and sins committed against another person that must be atoned for by asking forgiveness and mending one’s actions. Thus, observant Jews will use the next 10 days to search their hearts and make atonement between themselves and those they have wronged as well as pray for forgiveness from the Lord. God perfectly crafted the Jewish High Holiday period of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur to bring His people to repentance at the start of every year. Pray with us for the blessing of the Jewish people and the nation of Israel in the new year 5782!