Friday, September 15th, To Sundown on Sunday, September 17th
“Shana Tova” To All Our Jewish Friends
By Barbara Heimlich
Rosh Hashanah 2023 begins on the evening of Friday, September 15th, and ends at sundown on Sunday, September 17th. Rosh Hashanah is a religious and festive time when family and friends gather for meals, worship, and grow closer to God. It’s a time for looking forward to a new year with anticipation and reflecting on the past year to improve ourselves for the next. This two-day Jewish celebration of the New Year literally translates to “head of the year” in Hebrew. It is observed on the first and second days of the Jewish month of Tishrei, the first month in the civil calendar.
Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of the world and marks the beginning of the Days of Awe, a 10-day period of introspection and repentance that culminates in the Yom Kippur holiday, also known as the Day of Atonement.
As the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah is one of the holiest times for those who practice Judaism, with many popular traditions that are observed.
Wishing Someone “Shana Tova”: Those observing Rosh Hashanah often greet one another with the Hebrew phrase, “shana tova” or “l’shana tova,” meaning “good year” or “for a good year.” According to History.com, this is a “shortened version of the Rosh Hashanah salutation ‘L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem’ (‘May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year’).”
The Sounding of the Shofar: One of the most important ways that Rosh Hashanah is observed is with the sounding of the shofar, an instrument made out of a ram’s horn. The blowing of the shofar is not just a tradition, but actually a mitzvah, or commandment, that must be done every morning of Rosh Hashanah, unless the first day of the holiday falls on Shabbat (the Sabbath). According to History.com, the sound of the shofar is a call to repent and a reminder for Jews that God is their king.
Lighting Candles in the Evening: Lighting candles in the evening to celebrate Rosh Hashanah is an important part of the holiday. In many families, women and girls light the candles at different times before sundown on the first night of the holiday, and after nightfall on the second night of the holiday, according to Chabad.org.
Eating Festive Meals, Including Sweet Delicacies and Symbolic Foods: While challah bread is eaten for many other occasions (including the weekly Shabbat dinner), it’s tradition to eat round challah during Rosh Hashanah. The unique circular shape symbolizes the cyclical nature of life, as well as the crown of God. Raisins are often added to the dough to symbolize the hope for a sweet new year, as is the practice of dipping the bread into honey instead of salt. Sweetness for a sweet and happy new year is also why many people eat apple slices dipped in honey at the start of a Rosh Hashanah meal, one of the holiday’s most famous practices.
Other holiday eats rich with symbolism that are sometimes served at Rosh Hashanah include pomegranates and fish heads. According to the Jewish Museum in New York City, pomegranates are thought to have 613 seeds in each fruit, which corresponds to the 613 commandments in the Torah. Pomegranates are also sweet, in keeping with the theme of sweet delicacies for a sweet new year. Fish heads are sometimes served and eaten on Rosh Hashanah because of the holiday’s literal meaning, “head of the year,” and in hope that the year will be as bountiful as the fish in the sea.
Performing Tashlich at a Body of Water: According to Chabad.org, it’s customary for some who observe Rosh Hashanah to go to a body of water to perform a Tashlich ceremony, which involves symbolically casting away their sins. Some people literally throw things like bread into the water, and some, following prayers, shake out the corners of their clothes. The ceremony is typically done on the first day of the holiday, unless the first day falls on Shabbat, in which case it’s done on the second day.