And so begin the Jewish High Holidays
The start of the new semester at the University of Massachusetts is a time of optimism and renewal. This year especially brings several exciting changes to campus life: the renovated Campus Center has a newfound glow, Late Night at the dining commons is an indulgence now available seven days a wee and we have a promising new chancellor with some smooth dance moves.
The Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur conveniently fall around this time of new beginnings. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, began last night, while Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, follows 10 days thereafter. Complete with special services, festive meals and lack thereof, the High Holidays are among the most widely observed on the Jewish calendar and are filled with tradition and significance.
For food, apple slices dipped in honey are the quintessential Rosh Hashanah appetizer, meant to symbolize the sweetness of the year ahead. This dish is delicious so long as the apple slices do not turn brown by the time they are served. This is a legitimate concern as the meal is often delayed by excessive familial gushing over how much you have grown since your Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Mixing the apples with orange juice beforehand usually does the trick.
Another important element of the Rosh Hashanah service is the blowing of the Shofar, the ram’s horn whose resonant sound was used as a call to assembly in ancient Israel. On Rosh Hashanah, however, the Shofar’s ominous tone serves as a reminder of one’s obligation to reflect on the past year.
The task of blowing the Shofar is assigned to a member of the congregation with exceptional lung capacity, and for good reason: following a series of short toots, the Shofar-blowing routine culminates in one final note that lasts until the blower literally runs out of breath. The poor congregant’s face unfailingly resembles a tomato by the time they complete the grueling task.
Another Rosh Hashanah tradition is Tashlich, which translates as “casting away,” and is performed on the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah by taking a pleasant stroll to a nearby body of flowing water, such as a river or stream. The tradition involves symbolically casting away one’s sins by throwing stale bread crumbs into the water. The ducks immediately flock to this complimentary annual feast.
Teshuvah is the Hebrew word for repentance. In the 10 days that separate the two holidays, known as the Yamim Noraim, or Days of Awe, it is traditional to reflect on the wrong-doings one has committed to others over the past year and to reconcile them via a personal verbal apology.
For the “Mean Girls” fans out there, this may evoke the image of superficial high school girls making ridiculous public confessions (“Gretchen, I’m sorry I laughed at you that time you got diarrhea at Barnes & Nobles. And I’m sorry for telling everyone about it. And I’m sorry for repeating it now.”) The apologies exchanged during the Days of Awe (hopefully) carry more weight and sincerity. The Ten Days of Awe culminate in the grand finale of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which is the most critical Fast Day on the Jewish calendar. As its name suggests, Yom Kippur is a day designed to atone for one’s sins over the past year – yet unlike the practice of interpersonal apologies performed during the Ten Days of Awe, this atonement is meant to be achieved internally.
It is customary to wear white on Yom Kippur as a symbol of spiritual purity, and the service contains especially slow and mournful melodies that establish the day’s somber tone.
After a full day of prayer and introspection, the ultimate gratification comes, of course, from the much-awaited break-fast in the evening. Bagels are usually included.
And that concludes my preview of the Jewish High Holidays – Shana Tova to all!
Merav Kaufman is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.