What do Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur Celebrate?

Over the summer, our former intern Mitul shared her take on what Ramadan celebrates. Continuing in that tradition, since I’m Jewish I thought I’d share a bit about Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. If you’re not Jewish, you may have seen these holidays on the calendar – or, if you’re lucky, even gotten off from school for them. But what are they really about?

Rosh Hashana is the Jewish New Year (in Hebrew, it literally means “Head of the Year”) and celebrates the beginning of Apples and honeythe new Hebrew year. Because the Jewish calendar is based on the moon, the actual date of Rosh Hashana varies from year to year, but it always falls somewhere in the fall. For Jews, Rosh Hashana is a holy day, but a happy one: although it’s solemn and most people celebrate it by spending time in synagogue praying, it is a holiday focused on hope for a sweet new year. Because of that, the traditional food associated with Rosh Hashana is apples dipped in honey.

Yom Kippur, on the other hand, is solemn in a less fun way. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement, so Jews spend the day fasting, reflecting, and praying. They pray for forgiveness for anything they’ve done wrong over the course of the year before, and promise God that they will do better in the year ahead.

Between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are 10 days. Although I like Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, in truth the 10 days between can sometimes be the most meaningful part of the High Holy Days. During these days, we are supposed to do the hard internal work of reflecting on our past actions and thinking about how to change for the better, as well as repairing any hurt feelings or broken relationships that developed during the year before. It is a time for us to sincerely apologize to anyone to whom we owe an apology. The idea is that by the time Yom Kippur arrives, we have already asked for forgiveness from our peers. Only then are we in a position to ask forgiveness from God.

At the end of Yom Kippur, usually families break the fast together with a big meal. The feeling at the end of Yom Kippur is always one of lightness and hope: everyone gets to start the new year with a clean slate.

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