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ROSH HASHANAH: THE JEWISH NEW YEAR?
Believe it or not we are only about one week away from Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which begins at sundown on Sunday evening, September 17!
Rosh Hashanah is one of the holiest holidays in the Jewish religion, and marks what most refer to as the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days, which end 10 days later on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The intermediary days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are often referred to as the Ten Days of Repentance, so, while being a somewhat joyous occasion, Rosh Hashanah marks a pretty intense and introspective time for many Jews.
WHAT’S UP WITH THE JEWISH CALENDAR? WHY ISN’T THE NEW YEAR ON JANUARY 1ST?
Have you ever wondered why the dates of Jewish holidays always seem to change from year to year? Sometimes Rosh Hashanah is at the beginning of September, and sometimes it’s towards the end…and sometimes, it’s in the middle! It’s maddening!
The seemingly ever-changing dates are due to the fact that the Jewish/ Hebrew calendar is a lunisolar one, meaning that it is based on both the moon’s cycle as well as the solar year, with the latter being approximately 11 days longer than the former. So, in order for the systems to equal out, an entire extra month is added to the Jewish/Hebrew calendar for 7 out of every 19 years! This then creates problems when mapping the lunisolar Jewish/Hebrew calendar to the solar arithmetical Gregorian calendar, which is the most widely-used civic calendar systems in the world, and which also happens to be the system that we use here in the States.
Though many Jews celebrate the secular New Year on January 1st, as well, Rosh Hashanah tends to be the more meaningful of the two.
SO WHAT YEAR IS IT GOING TO BE ACCORDING TO THE JEWISH/HEBREW CALENDAR?
On September 17th (on the Gregorian calendar) at sundown, the year of the Jewish calendar will advance from 5772 to 5773.
LET’S PARTY, KIND OF?
Though it does demarcate the beginning of a new year, the observance of Rosh Hashanah is not very similar to the secular new year celebration, which, at least in America, often involves copious amounts of alcohol imbibition as well as football game-consumption.
As mentioned above, for many Jews the High Holy Days involve intense reflection. In fact, a pinnacle prayer of these services says "On Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed…who will live and who will die…who will rest and who will wander" (for a fantastic Leonard Cohen song very loosely based on this prayer, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQTRX23EMNk). So, while the mood isn’t necessarily somber, it isn’t overly-celebratory, either.
As with most other religious and cultural behaviors, the traditions associated with Rosh Hashanah vary. One of the most common things that Jews do on Rosh Hashanah, however, is go to services. A popular saying is that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are to Jews as Christmas and Easter are to Christians. Meaning, if a Jewish person goes to synagogue but twice a year, chances are pretty good that those two times will be for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services. In fact, this practice is so common that JDate, the country's most popular online Jewish dating website, includes "On High Holidays" as an answer to a question asking about the frequency of one's synagogue attendance (the others being "Every Shabbat", "Sometimes", "Never", and "On some Shabbats").
WHAT DO APPLES AND HONEY HAVE TO DO WITH IT?
Another widely-practiced tradition on Rosh Hashanah is that of eating apples dipped in honey, which is eaten after a prayer that asks G-d for a sweet year. The sweet taste of the fruit and dip matches the figurative sweetness hoped for in the coming year.
NOW THAT I KNOW WHAT ROSH HASHANAH IS ALL ABOUT, HOW DO I GREET MY JEWISH FRIENDS ON OR AROUND THE HOLIDAY?
You can say "L’Shana Tova", which means “for a good year”, and is actually an abbreviated version of a longer saying (“L'shanah tovah tikatev v'taihatem”), which means “May you be inscribed and sealed [in The Book Of Life] for a good year”.
WHAT WILL BE HAPPENING AT THE LJCC IN OBSERVANCE OF THE HOLIDAY?
Be on the lookout in the Fitness Center Lobby this week for some Rosh Hashanah-related goodies! Also, to allow our staff and members to observe the Jewish New Year, the LJCC will be closed on both Monday and Tuesday, September 17th and 18th.
May you have a happy, healthy, and sweet New Year. L’Shana Tova, y’all!
- Blair Hedges, Jewish Life Director, Levite Jewish Community Center
Pomegranates in Israel
It’s the end of another long, hot, humid Israeli summer, and pomegranate trees are close to collapse under the weight of red, ripe fruit.
Pomegranates are traditionally eaten on Rosh Hashanah; because of its numerous seeds, this fruit symbolizes fruitfulness.
The pomegranate tree, one of the Seven Species that the land of Israel is blessed with, is one of the most popular in Israel and can be found in private and public gardens, parks and orchards.
The name Rimon, pomegranate in Hebrew, is popular for girls. There is a village in Israel called Beit Rimon, the house of the pomegranate, and many organizations incorporate the word Rimon in their names, as it symbols richness and abundance.
The pomegranate is mentioned in the Bible many times, including this quote from the Song of Solomon: "Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech is comely: thy temples are like a piece of a pomegranate within thy locks." (Song of Solomon 4:3). Pomegranates are thought to be the fruits that the spies brought to Moses to demonstrate the fertility of the Promised Land.
Pomegranates also decorated the robe of the High Priest serving in the Temple. According to the Book of Kings, the capitals of the two pillars that stood in front of Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem were engraved with pomegranates. It is said that Solomon designed his coronet based on the pomegranate's "crown."
Pomegranates also symbolize the mystical experience in Kabbalah, with the typical reference being to entering the "garden of pomegranates." The pomegranate appeared on the ancient coins of Judea, and they still decorate the handles of Torah scrolls with silver globes similar in shape. Some Jewish scholars believe that the pomegranate was the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.
In recent years, the fruit’s popularity grew and it can be found in the commercial markets of North America and Europe: Pomegranate juice is a good source of vitamin C and vitamin B5. Pomegranates are prized for natural remedies: The rind of the fruit and the bark of the tree are used to treat diarrhea, dysentery and intestinal parasites. The seeds and juice are considered a tonic for the heart and throat, help lower cholesterol, reduce systolic blood pressure, etc.
In recent year, the pomegranate became most popular in Israel's art. These days, every art gallery, tourist shop, or home decor stores carry a variety of pomegranate Judaic Items. Many people collect pomegranate Judaic Items and display these items at their home or work place.
There are many signs to tell you if Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, is approaching in Israel: It’s the changing of the weather, it’s the migrating birds, it’s the shorter days and longer nights, it’s kids back to schools, and it’s fresh pomegranates at markets and supermarkets, and at every corner.
On Sunday night, the first evening of the new Hebrew year, (September 16th), we will sit around our festive holiday tables, hold our pomegranates, and wish each other: "May we be as full of good deeds and blessings as the pomegranate is full of seeds."
Shanah Tovah, Happy New Year