by: Ilse Strauss
Friday, 7 September 2018 | As Jewish people around the world look forward to celebrating the festival of Rosh HaShanah, the streets of Israel are already resounding with joyous shouts of “Shanah tovah umetukah” (have a happy and sweet new year), with family and loved ones wishing one another a sweet and prosperous new year.
Sunset on Sunday evening ushers in Rosh HaShanah, which in Hebrew means “head of the year” and marks the beginning of the year 5779 on the Biblical calendar.
Although Israel recognizes the Gregorian (civil) calendar, all Biblical festivals and holidays are determined by the Biblical calendar we read about in Scripture. Rosh HaShanah is no different and is celebrated on the first and second day of the seventh biblical month, the month of Tishrei. This year, the two-day feast begins at dusk on Sunday and draws to a close when the sun sets on Tuesday.
Rosh HaShanah is also known as the Feast of Trumpets and Yom HaTeruah or the Day of the Blowing. The reason for these names is found in God’s instructions regarding this feast in Leviticus 23:23–24, “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, saying: “In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation.”’”
Today, thousands of years later, the children of Israel remain true to God’s instructions. On Rosh HaShanah, the echo of the shofar or ram’s horn is heard throughout the land of Israel. Sounding the shofar issues a clarion call for the season and signifies the peoples’ recognition of the kingship of God.
There is, however, an added significance to Rosh HaShanah. The festival signals the start of the holiest time of the year on the Jewish calendar. “The 10 days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) are called the 10 Days of Awe,” explains Rebecca Brimmer, International President and CEO of Bridges for Peace. “These 10 days are a time of introspection, a time of searching your soul, a time to make everything right between you and God, as well as your fellow man.”
Rosh HaShanah is traditionally celebrated as the Jewish New Year. We find the reason in the Mishnah, which is the first written recording of Jewish tradition, Brimmer points out. “The first of Tishrei is the beginning of the year as regards [the calculation of] years, of the shmitah cycle (seventh year of allowing the earth to rest), the yovel (Jublilee) cycle, for planting [trees] and for produce” (Rosh HaShanah 1:1).
Author and Rabbi Arthur Waskow clarifies further, “This is then the new year for learning how a human being can turn toward God. Perhaps it is the head of the year because the head is raised toward heaven, away from the earth—while Pesach (Passover) celebrates the more earthly liberation, the freedom of our bodies [from slavery in Egypt].”
New Year’s Day celebrations on 31 December in the secular West are often marked by lavish parties, champagne toasts at midnight and much merriment. Yet the Hebrew New Year is different. The atmosphere of Rosh HaShanah is one of reverence and devotion, described by some as “subdued joyousness.”
“As I hear the sounds of the shofar at Rosh HaShanah, I reflect on these thoughts and feel at one with the Jewish people,” Brimmer says. “I find myself examining my heart to see if there is anything I need to correct. Are there relationships that need mending? What is God speaking to me about? What do I need to concentrate on to become the woman that God has planned me to be?”
Brimmer holds that although many people commit to New Year’s resolutions on 1 January every year, few of these pledges survive past the first few weeks. “The self-assessment that I make at Rosh HaShanah and in the days leading up to Yom Kippur are more long lasting,” she explains. “It is a special appointment that I look forward to each year.”
As with all Jewish festivals, Rosh HaShanah is an occasion for quality time spent with family and loved ones. Each festival typically has its own distinct food with special significance, prepared long in advance with much love and attention to be enjoyed during a special dinner.
For the Rosh HaShanah feast, tables are laden with an abundance of food, signifying the hope for a fruitfulness and prosperity in the year to come. For the sweet tooth, there are apples dipped in honey to symbolize the desire for a sweet new year. Fish, cooked with its head still attached to suggest the head of the year, is often served as the main dish. Round foods are also a favorite at all festival tables to represent the cycle of the year.
From Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Israel and the Jewish people, from the city of our God and the city of the great King (Ps. 48:1–2) Bridges for Peace wishes you and your family chag sameach (a happy holiday) in the same way that loved ones in Israel great one another on Rosh HaShanah, “L’ Shanah tovah umetukah” (May you have a happy and sweet new year).
Posted on September 7, 2018
Photo Credit: (Bridges for Peace, 7 September 2018)
Photo Credit: Maglara/shutterstock.com
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