Rosh Hashanah – The Jewish New Year – Starts on Friday, Sept. 15
There are many cultures and religions that celebrate new years, at times other than what most people think of as the calendar new year.
Some of the most well known include Lunar New Year, typically celebrated in late January/early February. Nowruz, the Persian New Year, begins on the spring equinox.
The Jewish New Year is called Rosh Hashanah. Literally, in Hebrew that means “Head of the Year”.
Rosh Hashanah is all about cooking, eating, and being with family. Of course, it also means spending time praying in synagogue, seeing old friends and meeting new people, and saying special blessings. We get to hear — and sing — special melodies that are only played at this special time of year.
The Jewish New Year is always held in the fall, typically in September. Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the Jewish High Holidays and is the start of the 10 Days of Awe, which conclude with Yom Kippur (the day of repentance).
I’ve written before about how while Chanukah is the most well known of Jewish holidays, it’s certainly NOT one of the most religiously significant. Well, Rosh Hashanah is one of the holidays that qualifies in that category.
This holiday is about more than community and family – it’s a time of introspection and deep prayer.
It’s a time to celebrate – and a time to think.
Here’s what I’d like you to know about Rosh Hashanah, one of the most significant holidays on the Jewish calendar.
— Rosh Hashanah celebrates the birthday of the world. It’s an event that affects all humanity, and we like to celebrate — and celebrate big!
— Rosh Hashanah is the same day every year – on the Hebrew calendar, anyway. It’s always the first day of the seventh month of the Hebrew month Tishrei. Of course the Hebrew calendar doesn’t match up with the Gregorian calendar, hence the changing date from year to year. In 2023, the holiday begins on Friday evening, Sept. 15.
— Traditionally, Rosh Hashanah is a two-day holiday. Like many other religions, observances vary. In this case, many American Jews observe only one day of Rosh Hashanah.
— Rosh Hashanah is a time to re-evaluate ourselves and our behavior in the past year. It is a time to reassess our goals, our dreams, how we treat others, and who we want to be. It’s a time “to live up to our own best standards,” said one rabbi I read.
— Rosh Hashanah is a time where we think about helping others. It is traditional to make offerings of charity. Many synagogues have food drives or ask for donations to local food pantries; in our case, we donate to the Eastern Illinois Foodbank. It also just so happens that September is Hunger Action Month, nationwide.
— On Rosh Hashanah, it is a mitzvah (commandment; good deed) to hear the blowing of the shofar. The shofar is a ram’s horn, and it is blasted as a call to worship (literally) and as a spiritual wake-up call. The blowing of the shofar is not easy; it takes a lot of practice (and good lungs). It is a joy to hear. Want to hear a shofar? Here’s an example on YouTube.
— A personal favorite tradition for the New Year: buying new clothes. One of my strongest childhood memories is going shopping with my mom for the right High Holiday (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) outfits to wear to temple. It’s traditional to get new clothes to celebrate the new year. Of course, this is just a custom. Where I grew up, people dressed to the “nines” for the holidays; our local Jewish community is a bit more informal.
— One of the traditions of Rosh Hashanah is to “cast off” your sins, symbolically. Tradionally held in the afternoon, Tashlich is a short “service” usually held during the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah. You can easily do it on your own at any body of moving water, where we symbolically cast off our sins by throwing something duck-friendly.This ritual is a great way to involve kids or those new to doing Jewish, and to get outside and reflect in a completely different way than the traditional synagogue rituals.
–No matter if they go to services or not, most Jews will participate in the the most common Rosh Hashanah tradition: dipping apples in honey to celebrate the beginning of a “sweet” new year. (Locally, we are spoiled with Curtis Orchard honeycrisps and honey!) Many other holiday treats and dishes incorporate honey.
— Want to wish someone a happy new year? A common greeting for the holiday is “L’Shanah Tovah” or just “Shanah Tovah” (all Hebrew words).
How to Celebrate Rosh Hashanah in Champaign-Urbana
Where to find traditional Rosh Hashanah foods:
Challah: Harvest Market sells round challahs, a tradition during Rosh Hashanah. (See the photo). Typically, challahs are braided in a long ovular shape. Rosh Hashanah challah loaves are made in a circular round shape, which symbolizes the never-ending cycle of years and seasons.
Apples and honey: We recommend both from Curtis Orchard.
Honey cake: We miss the honey cake made by Great Harvest Bread Company in the past. Anyone know where to get it now?
For those seeking religious observance options:
Sinai Temple, Champaign: The Reform congregation in Champaign will offer in-person and virtual options for prayer and programming. Contact Sinai Temple for more information.
The Hillel Foundation at the University of Illinois: In-person services will take place at the Hillel building at John and Fifth Streets. Meals are available by reservation (free for students, fees for community members). For more information visit the Illini Hillel website.
Chabad at University of Illinois: Services and shofar soundings and more. More info via the Chabad website.
Shanah Tovah U‘metukah — wishing all who celebrate a good and sweet new year!
Laura Weisskopf Bleill is the co-founder and editor of chambanamoms.com. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.