September 17, 2012

Why Rosh HaShanah Is Kind Of A Big Deal To Jewish People



Unlike forcing yourself to stay up until midnite new year, Rosh HaShanah (the Jewish New Year) is a bit more low-key and, well, religious. As one of the few holiest days, Rosh HaShana not only marks the beginning of a new year, but also celebrates the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve. Some call it the birthday of the world, but there are “experts” who disagree on when and how the world was created (but we won’t get in to that). What begins a ten-day period known as the Days of Awe, Rosh HaShanah is a pretty big deal.

Since you can read about the basics of Rosh HaShanah on a host of websites and blogs, I thought I’d give you a little more insight as to why Rosh HaShanah is a big deal to Jewish people, or more specifically to me and Jewish people I know. I won’t go in to all the deep religious reasons like asking forgiveness, reflecting on past transgressions or the all-important kid reason of not having to go to school. For every Jewish person, Rosh HaShanah holds different meaning. But for most Jews, it might be the second or third holiest day of the year. And while I don’t speak for the entire population of Jewish people, we’d all agree Rosh HaShanah is a pretty big deal.

So, Why Is Rosh HaShana Kind Of A Big Deal To Jewish People? Thank you for asking!

1. It’s as much about “me” as it is “we”. Birthdays tend to put a lot of focus on the one celebrating. Since Rosh HaShanah is the celebration of the creation of Adam and Eve (the birthday of the world), it’s not a coincidence that Jews world-wide focus a great deal of their attention to what’s going on in the world and how we can continue to make it better. It’s big ideas about world peace, but also small ideas about feeding the local homeless, making sure kids have food and clothes to go to school, and supporting others who seek to stop oppression. Adam and Eve might have started out all about the “me”, but their journey quickly turned into one focused on “we”.

2. R-E-F-L-E-C-T, that is what we do you see. I’m no musical talent, so just go with me on that. Like personal birthdays where there’s a lot of looking back and reminiscing, Rosh HaShanah stirs most people into a reflective mood. Even though Rosh HaShanah is about a new year, it’s important for Jews to look back at the year and take stock of how it went so each of us can figure out how to improve and do better.

3. Family. Unlike the secular new year, Rosh HaShanah brings families together. Whether it’s kids going home to be with their parents, grandparents visiting their children and grandchildren, extended families members coming together for the first time in a year, or opening your home to invite those who create a more world-view of family, Rosh HaShanah is a time to take to heart that we are part of a larger group that loves and cherishes us despite our transgressions.

4. Friends. What’s a celebration without friends? Sure, family’s nice and all but friends add a lot of joy to our lives and it wouldn’t be a party without them. I mean, Adam and Eve had to go find friends to enrich their lives. Isn’t that our first indication that while family is nice, friends are gold to the frankincense and myrrh of family relationships? Or something like that, without the baby Jesus reference.

5. Food. When it comes to celebrating important things there’s always food. And Rosh HaShanah is not one to disappoint. Food is so important to Rosh HaShanah that we even make the challah special. The challah isn’t just tasty and delicious. No, we make it round. There’s symbolism in that roundness. And we often make it sweet. Again, more symbolism. But we’re not done yet. Like most holidays with special food, Rosh HaShanah is not just stopping with round sweet challah. Jews around the world will dip apples in honey to symbolize a sweet year and remind us that even though there may be challenges to doing something, the reward is often sweet. (And probably to remind us of Adam and Eve. Like we’d forget!) Even though there will be fasting, the sumptuous meal that will be set before us will, once again, remind of that we’re connected to a bigger world and yet as we feast others may not.

6. Giving. – We call it Tikkun Olam, repair the world.  Despite this pretty awesome place we call Earth, after 5700 years or so things start needing a little extra attention. Just like we take care of our health, our homes, our vehicles, we also take care of the world. Rosh HaShanah is a time when we gather food, especially, to share with others who may not have. From the perspective of Adam and Eve, they walked out of the Garden of Eden with nothing. There was no one there to offer food or clothing or shelter. It’s not like that today. Jews around the world have a very strong sense of helping others and when reflecting on the year that has passes, we often evaluate how we could have helped a little more.

7. Feats of Strength. OK, it’s less of a feat of strength as it is a feat of lung capacity. If you’ve never blown a shofar, I guarantee it’s not as easy as it looks. And even if you played the trumpet through four years of marching band, you’re no shofar blowin’ Dizzy Gillespie. The sounding of the shofar (ram’s horn) signifies both a reminder of our need to repent. The shofar is like the referee’s whistle telling us we’ve done something wrong and to get our head on straight and get back in the game. The other feat of strength is fasting. And while we’ve all forgotten to eat lunch a few times, it’s not the same as purposefully not eating and spending the day deep in prayer while standing, sitting, and feeling a personal connection to the Almighty.

8. One More Year. It doesn’t have that same sing-songy-ness to it, but like the political chant wanting 4 more years, Rosh HaShanah is a reminder that we get another chance to do our best. We don’t get to put off being our most awesome self to some time down the road. Awesome begins right here, right now! It’s like calling a “do over” when you’re 9 years old playing marbles. Everyone deserves a chance to start over with a clean slate and Rosh HaShanah marks just that – a fresh, new year ahead full of possibility and opportunity.

Even though I don’t speak for all the Jewish people everywhere, I think these 8 reasons sum up why Rosh HaShanah is kind of a big deal to Jewish people around the world. And while I injected some fun in this post, I take very seriously the message of Rosh HaShanah – Be the best you can be and help others.

Shanah Tova, u’metukah!

Image Credit: Davi Cheng via Morgue File



Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot September 17, 2012 at 7:24 pm

Hi Sara,

I loved reading this as other people’s cultures are fascinating. I like the idea of eating sweet food in the hope of a sweet year ahead. It’s really amazing to read how all of these customs relate back to the story of Adam and Eve and how it’s a time not just to reflect on yourself but also to think about others.

The final message is one to live by.

Thank you for sharing it and Shanah Tova, u’metukah! across the oceans to you and yours:)

Kate @ Songs Kate Sang September 17, 2012 at 7:38 pm

Sara, thank you so much for sharing this with us! It absolutely fascinates me!

Shifra September 18, 2012 at 9:03 pm

Happy new year! Wishing you blessings and hoping we see each other this year!!!

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