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Rosh Ha’Shanah – Israel’s Civil New Year

Rosh Ha’Shanah – Israel’s Civil New YearAs summer wanes, signs of the coming change in season have begun creeping in at every turn. The fig trees ripe with fruit, the dates hang heavy on the palm trees where the grow near the dead sea in the Israeli desert, and fresh succulent figs and dates have now replaced grapes and watermelon as the seasonal desserts at the dinner tables. The pomegranates are near ready to burst (as they often literally do when the seeds inside swell beyond the pomegranate’s capacity).

The hot summer scorchers have become warm and pleasant days followed by cool evening breezes, and the children have traded in their beach towels for newly sharpened pencils and the fresh crackling sheets of notebook paper waiting to be filled. In Israel, all these signs can mean only one thing: Rosh Hashanah is almost here!

Rosh Hashanah in Hebrew means the ‘head of the year’, and is the Feast of the New Year in the Jewish Calendar (which is lunar oriented and unrelated to the Gregorian calendar of the Western world), signifying the start of the civil year in Israel.

Rosh Hashanah is a two-day celebration, which begins on the first day of the seventh Jewish month of Tishrei. According to Jewish tradition, the day is believed to be the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve. The shofar is customarily blown each morning for the entire month of Elul (excluding the Sabbath) before Rosh Hashanah in order to “awaken the listeners from their slumber and alert them to the coming judgment.” During Rosh Hashanah prayers, the shofar is blown over a hundred times throughout the day in different blast sequences.

Rosh Hashanah has dual significance that can often feel contradictory: On one hand, the concept of a ‘new year’ often invokes as sense of freedom, newness, or a fresh slate, However, the Biblical Rosh Hashanah is actually meant to do the exact opposite.

Rosh Hashanah ushers in a critical period in Judaism know as the ‘Days of Awe’, also called the ‘High Holy Days’. These are the ten days between the end of Rosh Hashanah and what is arguably the holiest of the Jewish Feasts, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Rather than starting afresh with the beginning of the New Year, the first day days that follow are days of fear and trepidation, repentance and penitence for observant and even many secular Jews.

So, while we will all joyfully ring in the Jewish New Year, dipping apples into honey to wish one another a sweet year to come, we all remember in our hearts the true purpose of Rosh Ha’Shanah – those trumpet blows of warning, reminding the people to repent of their sins and return to God.

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