Rosh Hashanah is the start of the Jewish New Year. Its literal translation from Hebrew is “head of the year”. It is also known as Yom ha-Din or “The Day of Judgment”.
This year it falls on Thursday September 29th. It is on this day that Jews around the world gather to worship and begin the ten days of repentance that will come to an end on Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah is a chance to review the last year and look ahead to the new one. A chance to ask God for forgiveness and repent so that one’s name can be inscribed in the “book of life” for the next year.
People who live in Israel follow the one day pattern of observance for most celebrations. While most observant Jews who live outside of the Land of Israel (Diaspora) follow the ancient two-day pattern for observing the holidays. With the holy day Rosh Hashanah both Israeli and Diaspora Jews mark the special occasion with two days of observance.
During this time Jews wish each other well with the expression,”L’shanah tovah tikatevu” (often shortened to shanah tovah) meaning “may God inscribe you in the Book of Life for a good year.” Others say l’shanah tovah tikatevu v’tichatemu for “good year, may you be written and sealed”
Shofar appears often in Jewish history, but it has a special place during Rosh Hashanah. The shofar is an instrument made from either a ram or sheep’s horn that is sounded at the New Year. It is believed that the trumpet like sound not only heralds the start of the holiday, awakens the soul to begin its task of repentance, but also can scare off demons to ensure a good start to the new year.
So to make a good start to your Rosh Hashanah celebration you can pick yourself up a shofar fairly easily. Whether you choose to go the traditional horn route or just a fun plastic party shofar they are available for purchase online or at a local Judaica store.
As with any world holiday, there are many food customs that accompany the celebration of Rosh Hashanah.
Challah, apples, honey and carrots are a must for the holiday table.
Challah is the centerpiece of almost every Jewish holiday table. On Rosh Hashanah, the traditional braided golden yeast bread is served with a bit of a twist (literally). In observance of the New Year, people will serve a round loaf to symbolize the year’s cyclical nature, but that is not the only shape. Challah is also baked in the shape of a bird, ladder or topped with a crown, but circular loaves are what is usually served. After being blessed, the challah is then dipped into honey and eaten in the hopes of ensuring a “sweet” new year.
The same is done with apples. After a brief blessing, one dips the apple into the honey again hoping for some good to come in the year ahead. Apples are another important food at the table. They are said to symbolize sustenance and beauty.
Pomegranates can also be on hand. Their many seeds are meant to symbolize the many good deeds one hopes to enact in the upcoming year. Pomegranates are also the symbolic fruit of Israel.
Carrots are on hand to help promote a prosperous new year. The Yiddish word for carrot is “mehren” which also means increase. Plus it doesn’t hurt that the orange vegetable when sliced resembles gold coins.
There are other traditions that have fallen off over the years, like eating the head of a lamb in rememberance of the ram sacrificed by Abraham or the head of a fish to symbolize a prayer to increase in numbers. So if you wish to go old school and can get your hands on a lamb’s head there is a place for it at the Rosh Hashanah table, but you’ll have to look for another resource on how to prepare said head because my research into that custom ended at the telling of the tale.
Here is my suggested menu:
Apples and Honey
Ruth Friedson’s Kreplach Soup
Beef Brisket with Carrots and Onions
Art Friedson’s Tzimmes
Poppa’s Rosh Hashanah Honey Cake
Even if you don’t practice the Jewish faith, it is a wonderful opportunity to gather friends and family for fun evening of great food and conversation. It could be a chance to for your guests to learn a little something about a holiday and world religion that before they weren’t familiar. So blow the shofar, break some challah and enjoy some honey dipped apples.