The High Holidays: Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur

This month is a very important for our Jewish colleagues.  They will celebrate The High Holidays, or Days of Awe which last for 10 days, starting with Rosh Hashanah (The beginning of the new Year), and culminating on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). It is a period of deep introspection and personal reflection a period when you stop from the everyday hectic life to evaluate yourself in the most sincere way, to identify your mistakes from the previous year, to repent and take practical actions to repair for your wrongdoings and then commit to improve yourself in the coming new Year!

Rosh Hashanah (meaning ‘head of the year’) starts on the evening of 18th September (traditionally each new day starts in the evening of the previous day, when the first 3 starts are seen in the sky). It is also known as Yom Teruah, literally “the day of blasting” because of the tradition to blow 100 times the Shofar, a ram’s horn, used as a wakeup call to repent and put your life in order. It marks the beginning of the Jewish year and is one of the holiest days of the Jewish faith. It is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, and thus it is considered to be birthday of the world. Unlike the festive celebrations of New Year on January the 1st, the Jewish New Year is a time of reflection on one’s actions of the past year and sincere repentance for any wrongdoings. However, it also is a time to share prayer and festive meals steeped in symbolism with family and friends.

How is Rosh Hashanah celebrated?

In preparation to Rosh Hashanah we seek reconciliation with people that we have wronged in any way during the year and ask for their forgiveness. On the evening of Rosh Hashanah and during the next day we traditionally wear new white clothes and spend most of the time in the Synagogue with family and the community. The central observance of Rosh Hashanah is the sounding of the Shofar, which signifies both the presence of God (it’s like the sound of trumpets before the king’s arrival) and a wakeup call to repent and put your life in order. After the service we would attend a Seder Meal (ritual feast meal rich in symbology) with Family and friends. Special food is eaten like slices of Apple dipped in honey (to symbolize the wishes for a sweet new year), Challah (bread) dipped in honey and pomegranates

Yom Kippur (meaning theDay of Atonement)starts on the evening of 27th September and lasts for 25 hoursIn Jewish tradition, Yom Kippur, is the holiest day of the year (akin to Good Friday for Christians). It is devoted to intense soul-searching, fasting and praying for forgiveness. Yom Kippur itself is a fast day where Jews spend the day in prayer and of total introspection abstaining from both food and drink for 25 hours – from sunset to sunset. The aim is to put aside the physical to focus on the spiritual, atone for our sins and  commit to avoid repeating them in the New Year, by striving to become the best possible version of ourselves. Some very observant Jews stand all day and avoid sleeping. It is also customary to give extra to charity and light memorial candles in remembrance of departed family members during Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur marks the end of the solemnity of the High Holidays and brings you straight into the festive mood of the festival of Sukkot!

Shanah Tova U’Metuka which means “May you have a Good and Sweet New Year!”

Many thanks to Dimitar Zahariev for his contribution to this article.

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