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Raw DS Article: Ruminations on a New Year

September 28, 2008
To the untrained observer, wishing someone a “Happy New Year” at the end of September might seem a bit out of the ordinary. Even stranger to that person would be the fact that around the world an entire group of people is welcoming the year 5769 into being. I will make several jokes referencing the fact that we still write 5758 on all of our checks. Just what are these celebrations I’m talking about? Today, millions of Jewish people around the world, including several of us in Grand Forks, are celebrating Rosh Hashanah—the Jewish new year.What exactly is this holiday? Rosh Hashanah (literally translated into English: head of the year) marks the passing of another year on the Jewish calendar (yes…we have our own) and is the first of two holidays that make up the holiest period of the calendar year, what is commonly referred to as the High Holy Days or the Days of Awe. Its purpose is to not only celebrate the coming of the new year, but to also begin a ten day period in which Jews are supposed to reflect on the past year, look to the year ahead, and begin the process of repentance for sins committed in the past year. These days culminate in Yom Kippur—the day of repentance—the holiest holiday in the Jewish religion.

In larger communities, these holidays are a very big affair and one that tends to bring Jewish people out of the woodwork who otherwise might not attend services during the year. At the large synagogue I used to attend in Denver, it was quite common to see 800-1000 people attend one service. Even in Grand Forks, we see more people than usual. The liturgy and prayers change and the music of the services grow deeper and more powerful. The celebration of Rosh Hashanah includes the consumption of traditional foods including apples and honey to symbolize a sweet new year as well as round challah, an egg-bread that symbolizes the circle of the year. These are often eaten as part of a meal shared with family members and friends. Services culminate in the blowing of the Shofar—a trumpet made from a ram’s horn, which serves as a powerful reminder of the coming period of reflection and repentance.

As a kid, I never used to like these holidays. While I always equated it with a day off of school, I realized that I had to spend the day dressed up and trapped in several services with many people I didn’t know, lots of foreboding music, and an obnoxiously long sermon from one of the rabbis (a rabbi I know expressed pride that he once wrote one that lasted 45 minutes). Mom’s brisket was lovely and the apples and honey were delightful, but even after several years of religious school, I didn’t understand or appreciate the holiday for what it was.

At some point in the transition years between high school to college, my perception of Rosh Hashanah began to change. I became mature enough to handle the sheer power and magnitude of these holidays as a Jewish adult. The holiday blends well with the beginnings of a school year, and I have been able to use it as a base point to reflect on what I have and have not accomplished in the year prior and what I hope to achieve in the year ahead. Both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur allow me two days during the year to focus entirely inward on my life and my relationship with God. Everything seems to fall into place: the season and the point where I am at in the year. I also give credit of my growing appreciation of the holiday to the small but vibrant Jewish community here in Grand Forks. After spending seventeen years praying and celebrating as part of a community of thousands, doing the same thing in a group of fifty took on a whole new meaning and purpose. This year will mark a special Rosh Hashanah for me—the first one I’ll celebrate as someone who recently returned from Judaism’s spiritual homeland of Israel. These holidays will take on an even deeper meaning and significance after having spent almost two weeks following in the footsteps of my religion.

Even if you are not Jewish, the ideas of reflection, celebration and repentance transcend the lines of religion. While Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are uniquely Jewish holidays, there is plenty of space in our lives for making peace with our friends and neighbors, whether they are Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, or atheist. To all of my Jewish readers: L’shanna Tova U’mitukah—a sweet and happy new year.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Sy Commanday permalink
    October 12, 2008 2:18 pm

    C:\Documents and Settings\Owner\My Documents\My Pictures\Beth Israel\Yom Kippor 2008.jpg
    Attached is a photo taken on Yom Kippur at my Synagogue (I did not know that it had been taken). I am the guy in the middle reading the Torah. L’shana tovah u’m’tukah.

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