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Rosh Hashanah. You’ve heard the words a million times, but what does it really mean? Literally, Rosh Hashanah translates to “Head of the Year,” and is a time for prayer, reflection, celebration and repentance. This mix of the sweet and the bitter float into many Jewish customs. After all, we sing hava negilah, a song that means “let us celebrate,” in a minor key. So it makes sense to start our new year with a mix of happy wishes and Divine judgment.
During Rosh Hashanah and in the 10 days leading up to Yom Kippur, we think about our actions in the past year and resolve to do better in the year to come. Doing better can take on many forms - apologizing to those we’ve wronged, confessing our sins, praying, giving to charity and working to repair our mistakes.
And because it wouldn’t be a Jewish holiday without food, we also celebrate by eating foods that are sweet and foods that are round to symbolize our wishes for a happy and full New Year.
From Seeker Season Guidebook for the Curious & Courageous https://highholidaysathome.com/haggadah/seeker-season
Nearly all Jewish holiday begin with lighting candles, and so this one will, too. After we light the candles we wave our hands in three big horizontal circles to symbolically bring the light closer to us, and then cover our eyes while we say the blessing. When the blessing is over take a moment of silent reflection with your eyes covered, and then open your eyes and enjoy the beauty of candlelight, bringing you into the new year.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּֽנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר שֶׁלְיֹוםטֹוב
Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam
asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel yom tov.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe,
who has sanctified us with commandments, and commanded us to light festival candles.
Wine or grape juice are also standards of nearly every Jewish holiday. Before we eat we take a moment to say a blessing over a glass of wine. In this special version Rosh Hashanah is called Yom HaZikaron, the Day of Remembering, and Yom Truah, the Day of Calling Out. Tonight during our meal we will do some remembering, and some calling out. We will also focus on the gratitude we feel for the past year, and all of the blessings that it contained. L’chaim!
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּֽפֶן
Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’ olam borei peri hagafen.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.
Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha'olam asher bakhar banu m'kol am, v'romemanu m'kol lashon v'kidishanu b'mitzvotav. Vatiten lanu Adonai Eloheinu b'ahava et Yom HaShabbat ha'zeh v'et)Yom HaZikaron ha'zeh. Yom zichron teruah b'ahava mikra kodesh, zekher le'yitziat mitzrayim. Ki vanu vakharta v'otanu kidashtah m'kol ha'amim, u'devarkha emet v'kayam la'ad.
Barukh atah Adonai melekh al kol ha'aretz, mekadesh haShabbat v'Yisrael v'Yom HaZikaron.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who has chosen us from among all peoples and sanctified us with God's commandments. And You gave us, Adonai our God, in love this Sabbath day and this Day of Remembrance. It is a Day of Remembrance a day for recalling with love the sounding of the Shofar, a sacred convocation, a commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt. For You chose us and sanctified us from among all peoples, and Your word is truth and endures forever.
Blessed are You, Ruler over all the earth, who sanctifies the Sabbath and Israel and the Day of Remembrance.
On Rosh Hashanah and throughout the High Holiday season, we eat challah in the shape of a circle, to symbolize the circle of time, and the fullness of the year that is coming. Many people add even more sweetness to their first challah of the new year by adding apples and raisins or by drizzling honey or jam on top.
As you take a bite, share with others around the table how you hope to bring sweetness into the world in the New Year.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
הַמּֽוֹצִיא לֶֽחֶם מִן הָאָֽרֶץ
Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam,
hamotzi lekhem min ha-aretz.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God,Ruler of the universe,
Who brings forth bread from the earth.
For Ashkenazi Jews, the primary symbolic food of Rosh Ha-Shanah is apples dipped in honey, a way of wishing for a sweet new year. Before eating apples and honey, say the following blessings:
Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha'olam borei pri ha-eitz.
Blessed are You, God, Ruler of the universe, who creates fruit of the tree.
Yehi ratzon lifanecha, Adonai Eloheinu, v'Elohai avoteinu, she'te'hadesh aleinu shanah tovah u'metukah.
May it be Your will, Adonai our God, to grant us a good and sweet year.
Each year, the first time we eat a fruit that only grows at a certain time of year, we say a special blessing, the shehecheyanu, on this new fruit.
בָּרוּך אַתָּה יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶך הָעוֹלָם שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וקְִיְמָּנוּ והְִגִיּעָנוּ לַזְמַן הַזֶה
Barukh ata adonai elohenu melekh ha-olam, she-hechiyanu, v’kiy'manu, v’higi'anu la-z’man ha-zeh
Blessed are You, the One who has kept us alive and sustained us so that we could reach this moment.
For centuries, Sephardi Jewish families have gathered to celebrate a special Rosh Hashanah ceremony with a plate or meal of symbolic foods. Each food is eaten after requesting a specific kind of Divine blessing that sounds like the name of that food in Hebrew.
Before eating dates ( tamar ):
May it be your will, God, that hatred will end. ( Tamar resembles the word for end, yitamu. )
Before eating pomegranate:
May we be as full of mitzvot as the pomegranate is full of seeds.
Before eating apple:
May it be Your will, God, to renew for us a good and sweet year.
Before eating black-eyed peas or string beans ( rubia ):
May it be Your will, God, that our merits increase. ( Rubia resembles the word for increase, yirbu. )
Before eating pumpkin or gourd ( k’ra ):
May it be Your will, God, to tear away all evil decrees against us, as our merits are proclaimed before you. ( K’ra resembles the word for tear and proclaimed, likroah. )
Before eating spinach or beet leaves ( selek ):
May it be Your will, God, that all the enemies who might beat us will retreat, and we will beat a path to freedom ( Selek resembles the word for retreat, yistalku ).
Before eating leeks, chives, or scallions ( karti ):
May it be Your will, God, that our enemies be cut off. ( Karti resembles the word for cut off, yikartu. )
Since Rosh Hashanah means the head of the year, we eat foods that symbolize our wish to be heads, not tails in the year to come. Traditionally, families ate the head of a fish or sheep. You may want to instead enjoy a head of lettuce, or a more whimsical option involves gummy fish.
May it be Your will, God, that our heads remain clear and focused on creating a better world this year.
Illustration by Jessica Tamar Deutsch displaying the traditional simanim