This is the time of year when members of the Jewish faith will observe the High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah, believed to mark the date of the creation of the world, and Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, a time of personal reflection on the transgressions committed during the past year seeking spiritual and human forgiveness.  Rosh Hashanah and the new Jewish year 5783 will begin on Sunday evening, September 25th lasting through sundown on Tuesday evening, September 27.  Yom Kippur will be observed ten days later, the evening of October 4th and through the evening of October 5th.   Known as the “Days of Awe” or the “Ten Days of Repentance,” together they combine the joy of a New Year celebration and its theme of renewal with the seriousness associated with confronting one’s failings on Yom Kippur.

Rabbi Jan Katz and Cantorial Soloist Melody Funk will welcome the Lakes Region Jewish community to Temple B’nai Israel, sharing a message of “returning to our annual themes of self-reflection, confession, forgiveness, and setting new intentions for the coming year, always with new eyes and heart.”  The primary observance of both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is through participation in synagogue worship.  Jews customarily do not work or attend school on these holidays which allows for spending the day in thoughtful prayer with family and friends. More information about observing the High Holy Days at Temple B’nai Israel can be found using this link – High Holiday Services 5783/2022

Like most religious traditions, Judaism places a high value on living an ethical life while at the same time recognizing that humans are fallible.  For that reason, this season, with its emphasis on atonement and forgiveness, is particularly important and meaningful.  The prayers that are recited and the traditions that are practiced during this time are unique to these holidays.  It is only on these holiest of days that the shofar (ram’s horn) is sounded 100 times during a traditional Rosh Hashanah service.  The sounding of the shofar symbolizes the biblical ram that was sacrificed instead of Isaac, Abraham’s son, as God had commanded Abraham to do.Hearing the shofar’s call is a reminder to wake up, look inward and repent for the sins of the past year both those against God and those against other humans.  On Yom Kippur, considered both the holiest day of the Jewish sacred calendar and one of the most somber, the shofar is blown only once, at the conclusion of the day of prayers and fasting.

Worship in the synagogue focuses on penitence and confession.  However, one of the most meaningful rituals of Rosh Hashanah is not practiced in the synagogue but at a body of flowing water, a river, lake, or the ocean.  This special service of “tashlich” (pronounced tash-leekh), which is the Hebrew word for “casting off / throwing off” involves reciting specific prayers while tossing pebbles into the water, thereby symbolically “casting our sins upon the waters.  The Tashlich ceremony offers hope and encouragement to continue doing the work of moral self-examination, of offering apologies when appropriate, and of seeking self-improvement going forward.

Along with the many prayers and rituals observed during this time of year is sharing in celebratory meals with symbolic foods.  Rosh Hashanah is associated with the tradition of eating apples dipped in honey which represents hope for fruitfulness and the desire for a sweet year.  Many families will share a festive holiday dinner enjoying traditional foods such as brisket, kugel, gefilte fish, and honey cake.  The challah bread that is served during the high holy days is round rather than the usually braided oval or loaf shape.  The round shape symbolizes the continuing cycle of years and seasons and it is often made with raisins and a little bit of extra sugar, again to emphasize the sweetness of the year to come.  While the Yom Kippur fast begins at sunset and ends the following day at sunset it promises a sweet redemption with a festive meal known as Break the Fast.  A day that is typically filled with food and drink is replaced by a day that is centered on introspection and prayer, forgiveness and personal recognizance, a chance to begin the new Jewish year on the right footing.  The Jewish High Holy Days help to mark the start of a new year in meaningful ways and to highlight moral responsibility toward one another.  To all who celebrate, L’Shanah Tovah, Happy New Year!