ROSH HASHANA, YOM KIPPUR AND SUCCOTH just around the corner.

The Jewish High holidays are drawing near but what do they really mean? Rosh HaShanah (New Year), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) the two most holy of holidays have a lot of hidden symbolism and deep meaning.

Rosh Hashanah is just around the corner and despite the infected air that we are all having to live with at the moment, celebrations up and down the country will occur.  One way or another, families will find the way to be together and celebrate what is traditionally known at the Jewish New Year.  But, did you know, that it is also considered as a celebration for the birthday of the world?  Rosh Hashanah also marks the beginning of the Days of Awe, a 10-day period of self-reflection and repentance that ends with the Yom Kippur holiday, also known as the Day of Atonement. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the two “High Holy Days” in the Jewish religion.

Around the world New Year is an excuse for a partying!  Fun, food, dancing, music, street parties, and so on are the menu for the new beginning.  However, Rosh Hashanah is much more subdued and thoughtful.  Two days of holiday from work, two days of attending the synagogue for some and two days of family gatherings for most.

There are a few symbols that represent this important holiday and the most unusual one being the ‘sounding of the shofar’ – a trumpet made from a Ram’s horn.  It is a call to all to repent and a reminder that to Jews, God is their king. 

The festivities at home with the family are steeped in symbolism and tradition.  New clothes, fine tableware and linen, lighting of candles, and food that is a representation of positive wishes for the new year.

Apples and honey are a popular custom for Rosh Hashanah and involves eating apple slices dipped in honey.  In ancient times it was believed that apples had healing properties and the honey represents the hope that the new year will be sweet.  The meals at Rosh Hashanah also include an assortment of sweet treats for the same reason.

A round loaf of challah (bread) is a symbol of the circle of life.  Some households add raisins to the dough, again, for a sweet new year.  On Shabbat (the Sabbath) and other holidays the challah is usually a plaited loaf.

Yom Kippur – Day of Atonement – is observed for a 25 hour period beginning at sundown (as the Sabbath) with a feast that is known as the ‘breaking meal’.  There are various activities that are prohibited during this time: work, eating or drinking, bathing, anointing the body with oil, wearing leather shoes and sexual relations. The country as a whole completely shuts down.  The hotels remain open for people who want the peace and quiet but the tourist attractions are not open.  You will see very few cars on the road, the national television channels cease broadcasting for the 25 hour period.  The period ends with another ‘breaking meal’.  People tend to use this day as a time for self-reflection and on how they want to conduct themselves in the new year. 

Sukkot,  also known as the Feast of Tabernacles, or Feast of Booths, this is a holiday that celebrates the years that the Jewish people spent in the desert on their journey to the Promised Land, and how they were protected them during the difficult desert conditions.

The word Sukkot means ‘hut’ or ‘booth’, and the holiday is celebrated by families across the country, building open air structures that they live in during the holiday period.  The structure should have a roof of branches and leaves (usually the date palms are ideal for this purpose) so that the occupants can view the sky. Spending time is this temporary and fragile building reminds us of how vulnerable the Jewish people were during their journey.  These days, mostly, people do not actually live in these huts, but they decorate them and dine and spend family time together in the huts until bedtime.

Shana Tova 2


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