Symbols & Rituals of Rosh Hashanah

Symbols & Rituals of Rosh Hashanah

From our archived column, “Not Your Grandparents’ Shtetl: Exploring Jewish Culture in Western MA,”  Amy Meltzer shares different symbols and rituals of Rosh Hashanah.  Also known as the Jewish New Year, or the first day of the traditional Jewish lunar calendar, this year Rosh Hashanah takes place sunset, September 13 – nightfall, September 15, 2015.

SWEETNESS OF ROSH HASHANAH

One of the themes of Rosh Hashanah is sweetness. (A traditional greeting is “May you have a good and sweet new year.”) Apples and challah (Jewish egg bread) dipped in honey symbolize that sweetness. Before Rosh Hashanah, we make a trip to a local apple orchard to collect several varieties of local apples. On the holiday we sample the apples, and sweet recipes made from the apples…

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Rosh Hashanah in Western MA

Not Your Grandparents' Shtel: Exploring Jewish Culture in Western Mass by Amy Meltzer

Celebrating the New Year in September

Kids learning to blow a shofar. (Photo credit: Amy Meltzer)

The first of the Jewish High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah, falls this year at the end of September. Rosh Hashanah is also known as the Jewish New Year, or the first day of the traditional Jewish lunar calendar. According to ancient texts, Rosh Hashanah marks the “birthday of the world” or the anniversary of creation.

If you grew up Jewish, as I did, you might remember that the High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, are big synagogue holidays. In many synagogues, there are two days of services that often run from early morning until mid-afternoon. Synagogue marathons really don’t work for me and my family; consequently, as I’ve tried to strike a balance  – spending a limited amount of quality time in synagogue, while also finding other meaningful and enjoyable ways to celebrate the high holidays, both indoors and out.

Symbols & Rituals of Rosh Hashanah

SWEETNESS OF ROSH HASHANAH

One of the themes of Rosh Hashanah is sweetness. (A traditional greeting is “May you have a good and sweet new year.”) Apples and challah (Jewish egg bread) dipped in honey symbolize that sweetness. Before Rosh Hashanah, we make a trip to a local apple orchard to collect several varieties of local apples. On the holiday we sample the apples, and sweet recipes made from the apples. (Here’s a link to my mother’s Jewish apple cake, which is on the menu every single year.)

SHOFAR

Another symbol of the holiday is a shofar, a musical instrument made form a ram’s horn. The shofar is sounded in synagogue, but my kids love to try to blow the shofar on their own. We often forgo synagogue on the second day of the holiday in favor of a hike and a picnic. We take a shofar along and I let my kids blow it as often as they like (at least when no one else is around – it tends to sound like a dead seal in their hands.) Did you know you can buy a shofar on Amazon? They really do sell everything. This slightly silly but terrifically informative video shows how to blow the shofar.

FOOD CEREMONIES FOR ROSH HASHANA

Tashlich is a ceremony performed on the afternoon of the first day of the holiday. The ritual involves tossing bread crumbs into a body of water to represent casting off one’s mistakes from the past year. While most synagogues organize a group tashlich gathering, it can be especially meaningful to do with your family or in a small group at a favorite watering hole. A lovely book, Tashlich at Turtle Rock, tells the story of one family taking part in their own, homemade tashlich service.

Almost every Jewish holiday includes one or more festive meals. Jewish communities all over the world have developed their own unique traditional foods, all symbolizing hopes for the upcoming year, ranging from pomegranates, to seven-vegetable couscous, to, well, the head of an animal. Here’s an article describing these traditional in detail, recipes included.

As promised last month, here’s a link to my very favorite challah recipe, from the wonderful blog, Smitten Kitchen. While most of the year, challah is prepared in a long braid, it is a Rosh Hashnah tradition to make round challahs, representing the cycle of renewal.

And now, the listings for September. I’ve divided the listings into two categories, Rosh Hashanah related events and Shabbat/Sabbath Events. But first, an event that doesn’t fit into either category (but sounds like a lot of fun!):

  • Saturday, Sept 10, from 7 -10pm in Pelham, MA.
    Come dance the night away at the Pelham Library with the Jewish dance band Klezamir to support the Pelham Library. Klezamir’s mix of traditional Jewish favorites and  classic rock ‘n’ roll will delight all tastes and all ages. Enjoy easy Jewish dance instruction plus seasonal snacks including apples, honey and challah. ($)
    Pelham Library, 2 S. Valley Rd., Pelham, MA 413-253-065

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