Many Jewish Americans celebrate Rosh Hashana (or Rosh Hashanah), which is also known as the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashana starts on the first day of Tishrei (or Tishri), which is the seventh month in the Jewish calendar, and may last for two days. It is sometimes called the Day of Remembrance or the Day of Blowing the Shofar.
Many Jewish Americans observe Rosh Hashanah, known as the New Year in the Jewish calendar, for two days, while others celebrate the event for one day. It is a time of family gatherings, special meals and sweet foods. Many Jewish people celebrate Rosh Hashana by eating challah bread and apples dipped in honey.
Unlike the secular New Year in the Gregorian calendar (January 1), Rosh Hashana is a time of judgment and remembrance, on which God reviews and judges a person’s deeds in the past year. It is a time of prayer and penitence. All debts from the past year are supposed to be settled before Rosh Hashana. Many Jewish people seek forgiveness from friends and family prior to this event.
Some Jewish people perform the tashlikh. This is the custom of reciting prayers near naturally flowing water, such as a stream or river, and symbolically throwing one’s sins away in the form of small pieces of bread or other food. Many Jewish people perform tashlik from places such as the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges in New York. Some people may use a fish pond or mikveh (ritual bath) if there is no local river or stream.
People of Jewish faith may take the day off work or organize time off during this time of the year, to observe the belief that no work is permitted on Rosh Hashanah. Much of the day is spent in synagogue, where the regular daily liturgy is expanded. The story of Abraham is read in synagogues and the shofar (ram’s horn) serves as a reminder that God allowed Abraham to sacrifice a ram instead of Abraham’s son, Isaac. The shofar is blown like a trumpet in the synagogue during this time of the year.
Rosh Hashana (or Rosh Hashanah) marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year and covers two of the 10 High Holy days that conclude with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Some sources say that the early Jewish calendar had four New Years, corresponding the seasons, with Rosh Hashana being one of the New Years.
Festivals to mark the beginning of a new year in the fall have been held since the earliest days of the Israelites. These took the form of prayers of thanks for the grain harvest. The custom of blowing trumpets on the 10th day of the month of Tishrei is first described in the vision of Ezekiel, a prophet who lived sometime around 600–500 BCE. This custom has continued into modern times.
The challah bread, which is eaten during Rosh Hashana, symbolizes the continuity of life. The apples that are dipped in honey symbolize sweetness and good health throughout the New Year. Some people also eat fish heads, which symbolize their desire to be on top, not the bottom, of life in the New Year. Pomegranates symbolize an abundance of goodness and happiness.
The shofar reminds people of Jewish faith that God allowed Abraham to sacrifice a ram instead of his Abraham’s son, Isaac. The tashlikh is an act that symbolizes throwing one’s sins in the water, so people believe that they are freed from their sins.
Note: Jewish holidays begin at sundown the day before the date specified for the holiday.