Our newest curriculum, The Precious People, includes celebrations of several ancient feast days to bring what we are learning to life through food and fun. Enjoy this guest post about one of these festivals.
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Rosh HaShanah is the Jewish New Year. It is the first in a series of holidays that mark the fall feasts. Rosh HaShanah are Hebrew words that mean “beginning of the year”. It falls on the first day of the month Tishri in the lunar based Hebrew calendar.
The month before Rosh HaShanah, the month of Elul, is a time of preparation. The Jewish person looks deep inside his soul, at all the actions he has done over the past year; of all the words he has spoken. Were they loving and good? Where is there room for improvement? How has he behaved before G-d and before his fellow man? Has he or she been generous, patient, kind and forgiving? It is a time of repentance and cleansing or purification, not just internally, but externally. The home is made spic and span; new clothes are bought; special foods prepared for the feasts that lie ahead. Each day in the morning, the shofar, or ram's horn is blown. Its loud booming sound is supposed to wake up the sleeping soul. “Get ready! Get ready to stand before the Lord!!”
Rosh HaShanah begins the period known as the Ten Days of Awe or Days of Repentance between the New Year and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. Jewish people throughout the world celebrate Rosh HaShanah. In America, it is customary to send New Year cards to friends and family. The greetings read “L'Shannah tovah tickateyvu!” which means “May you be inscribed for a good year!” It is a family time; a time not only to attend synagogue, but to enjoy a big meal with family and friends. In Israel, it is a time of gift giving – usually something for the home, such as flowers or sweet foods.
Many families celebrate the holiday with a seder, a ritual meal with special foods, prayers and blessings to bring in the New Year. At the beginning of the meal, at sunset, the women of the home light two candles and say a blessing. It is a way of sanctifying, or making holy this time. A special prayer is recited by all, thanking G-d for preserving us and bringing us to this holy time. The father sings the blessing over the wine; the hands are washed with accompanying blessings, and then there is the blessing over the bread.
On the Sabbath day, there are two loves of freshly baked challah, a light and sweet egg bread that has been braided into three parts. On Rosh HaShanah, the challah is round in a crownlike spiral. This represents the cycle of the year as well as the fact that G-d is the King. At the meal, it is customary to eat sweet foods, most notably apples dipped in honey for a sweet year. The apples are raised up, and all present at the table say to each other; “May it be thy will, O Lord, to grant us a sweet and happy year.”
At Synagogue many prayers are said: prayers of repentance; prayers for forgiveness and mercy; prayers of thanks for the past year; and prayers for a good year. Besides the many prayers, the Torah (the first five books of the Scriptures) is chanted in Hebrew from a handwritten scroll. If the New Year does not fall on a Sabbath, the ram's horn, the shofar, is blown (blowing the shofar is extremely hard work, so if it is Shabbat or Sabbath, no work can be done). It reminds the Jewish people of the shofar blasts as Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. In the afternoon, many Jews gather near a flowing body of water for the tashlikh, or “you will cast” service. Often crumbs are carried in the pockets, symbols of broken promises, sins, bad attitudes, which are thrown into the water as a symbol “to cast all sins into the depths of the sea.”
For the Jews of Israel most holidays only last one day, but outside of the land of Israel, holidays are celebrated for two days. Because Jewish time is marked from the beginning of the creation of the world, Rosh HaShanah, 2018 is actually the beginning of the year 5779.