The Jewish High Holy Days begin Sunday, Sept. 16, at sundown with the two days of Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish New Year 5773, followed by eight days of reflection and repentance, and culminating in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Jews are taught that God decides their fate during the coming year on Rosh Hashanah, but the decision is not sealed until Yom Kippur.
Tradition permeates the High Holy Days. Families make their own traditions, and there are many staples. It is a time for new beginnings; possibilities abound.
“May you be inscribed in the book of life for a happy new year” is the greeting during this holy time of the year.
On the first night of Rosh Hashanah, the female head of household lights candles over a cup of wine before sundown. On the second night, the candle lighting takes place right after sunset.
Celebrants recite the following kiddush, or praise:
Barukh atah Adonai, Elohaynu, melekh ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav, v’tzivanu; ‘had’lik neir shel yom tov. Amen.
Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who sanctifies us with his commandments, and commands us to light the candles of the holiday. Amen.
Celebrants dip apple slices into honey to symbolize their wishes for a sweet new year. They eat challah, a bread made especially for the holiday in a round shape, rather than the oval shape that is eaten on most Shabbats, or Sabbath days. The round bread symbolizes the circle of life. Raisins baked into the bread add sweetness.
Families attend synagogue services, where the sounding of the ram’s horn, or shofar, breaks the silence. The shofar calls them to worship during Rosh Hashanah and the ensuing holy week.
The sounding of the shofar forges a connection with worshippers of the past who for thousands of years have broken away from their everyday schedules to reflect on their lives and dedicate themselves to correcting shortcomings.
The coming year’s fate may be changed for the better during the intervening days by making a conscious decision to turn away from the sins of the past and to act in accordance with God’s commandments in the future.
Setting aside time from everyday life encourages creative thinking about ways to resolve conflict on the personal and world stage, a precept to which everyone can adhere, regardless of faith.
Jews spend Yom Kippur in temple, fasting, to cleanse their bodies of sin and to help focus on prayer and reconciliation.
The fast is broken at the conclusion of Yom Kippur with a feast, shared by family.
Although the traditions are specific to the Jewish High Holy Days, people from other religious backgrounds can understand their validity.
May Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur be filled with traditions new and old, in a world where war gives way to peace, and hatred turns to love. —N.D.