People often ask what we Jewish people do on the High Holy Days. What’s the Jewish New Year? “Do you have parties and fireworks?” And what’s the Day of Atonement? “Do you get absolved of all the things you’ve done wrong?” Let me see if I can provide some answers from my Reform Judaism and own point of you. Apologies already to my Orthodox friends who are much more observant than we are. This is bare bones here.
Rosh Hashanah celebrates the beginning of the Jewish New Year. It’s in the 7th month of the Jewish calendar. Wikipedia says: Rosh Hashanah customs include sounding the shofar (a hollowed-out ram’s horn), as prescribed in the Torah. (Below is Moe practicing at our daughter’s in Seattle while we’re Skyping with our son and daughter-in-law’s family in California. Our granddaughter is in awe while I’m busting a gut.)
Despite this moment of hilarity, the High Holy Days are very solemn. It is a time to look into your soul.
People attend synagogue services and read special prayers and liturgy that has been read by our forefathers and mothers for thousands of years.
It’s also a time to gather with family and friends to enjoy delicious meals with symbolic and traditional foods. (This requires hours in the kitchen and sacrificing manicures!!!!)
Here’s part of something I wrote for our Rosh Hashanah dinner this year.
Tonight, we celebrate the beginning of the Jewish New Year 5778.
- our love for family and all humanity,
- our desire to help our fellow man,
- our hope to be the best people we can be,
- our prayers for peace in the world.
We celebrate by reflecting on our past year. We remember the good things we have done, and the bad. We make a pledge to be better people—to do more good things—to put our words into action. Life is not a game of perfect, we will make some mistakes. But we never give up. We have ten days to think about who we are and who we want to be. We search our inner selves. We slow down to take stock. We recite the prayers our great-great-grandmothers and grandfathers did, as well. We carry on our heritage and connect with the generations before us. In these Ten Days of Awe, we center ourselves by remembering we are not the sum of our accomplishments or the amount of our possessions. No, we are just human beings. Human beings who are moral at our core.
On Yom Kippur, you fast from sundown to sundown. It is a time for prayer and reflection, a time to get back to your center—to listen to the still, small voice inside that knows right from wrong. As we did on Rosh Hashanah, we go to synagogue to pray together . We ask forgiveness from God for what we have done wrong, and ask for the wisdom to not make the same mistakes. We say memorial prayers for our loved ones who are no longer with us.
At sundown, we once again gather to break-the-fast. Another time to be with family and eat traditional foods.
This is not in any way a definitive explanation of the High Holy Days. Mostly it’s a glimpse into how the family Muscatel observes them.
Shalom. Peace. Amen.