by Naomi Wuliger

All of us are probably aware of the long weekend we had this October, and know that the cause of this is a Jewish holiday. This holiday marks the start of the Jewish New Year, and it is called Rosh Hashanah. We also have an additional day off, in the middle of the next week. This Jewish high holiday is called Yom Kippur. The Hebrew calendar is different from the traditional calendar, and this is why Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur begin in the middle of our traditional calendar instead of on January 1st. According to the Hebrew calendar, we are entering the year 5783. These two holidays are considered to be Jewish “high holidays” or Yamim Noraim, which means “Days of Awe”. During Jewish high holidays, Jews are not supposed to drive, light a stove from scratch (which is why Orthodox Jews will keep a candle burning for 24 hours a day), or even work! Jews are permitted to cook, but there are many restrictions. 

During Rosh Hashanah, Jews are encouraged to start fresh and dispose of their sins through a custom called Tashlich. During Tashlich (which is performed on the first day of Rosh Hashanah), Jews recite verses and shake out the corners of their clothes. Then, Jews cast out their “sins”, which are typically symbolized by bread crumbs, into a body of water, preferably with fish to purge themselves of their sins or the Heavenly prosecutor (Satan) into the Heavenly sea. 

Following Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur is celebrated by the Jewish people. On Yom Kippur, it is believed that God decides each person’s fate, so Jews attempt to make amends and pray for forgiveness for their sins committed during the past year. Yom Kippur first took place when God caught the Israelites worshiping a golden calf. God forgave them once they atoned for their sins, which is why this holiday is still celebrated by the Jewish people to this day. One of the hardest things about Yom Kippur is that Jews are not supposed to eat or drink following the dinner that marks the start of Yom Kippur, called Kol Nidre, with the fast being broken the next day at break-fast (a dinner). Jews are expected to follow this rule once they have been Bar/Bat Mitzvahed (12.5-13 years old) unless they are sick, pregnant, or have some other medical complication. 

Additionally, a shofar (a trumpet-like instrument made from a ram’s horn) is blown during Rosh Hashanah services, at the end of Yom Kippur, and and during the preceding month of Elul. The four sounds of the shofar- Tekiah, Shevarim, Teruah, and Tekiah Gedolah remind many Jews of a crying voice, and is a reminder to look inward and repent for the sins of the past year. The shofar is blown in the synagogue while members of the congregation listen.

These two Jewish high holidays are very important to the Jewish people, and are very seriously celebrated. All of these customs/rituals help determine who will be inscribed in the “book of life”, which determines who will live during the new year, and who will die. One thing you can say to someone who is celebrating Rosh Hashanah is “Shanah Tova!” or “good year!”. For Yom Kippur, you can wish them a meaningful fast!