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People have celebrated Rosh Hashanah with a festive gathering since Talmudic times. Weaving together symbolic foods with the familiar structure of a seder helps us start the new year mindfully.
During this brief seder, we’ll make four toasts together and find opportunities for blessing and reflection. Each toast is centered on a way of understanding Rosh Hashanah - as a day of reawakening, of judgment, of remembrance and of recreation. The choice of beverage is up to you!
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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.
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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.
Our first toast is to Yom Truah, the Day of Reawakening. “Truah!” shouts the shofar, blasting the alarm buried in your soul. The shofar wakes us up, and it amplifies our voices, making our prayers heard. Move in your body, stand in your power and be loud.
Together, we raise a glass and make a Toast to Reawakening from Psalm 118:
“From the narrowness of distress, I called to God; and God answered me with the breath of Divine relief. You have heard my voice; do not shut Your ear.”
Blessing for Hearing the Shofar
Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha-olam asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu lishmoa kol shofar.
We praise You, Eternal God, Ruler of the universe, who has made us holy with commandments, and who has commanded us to hear the voice of the shofar.
Reflection Questions for Yom Truah - Day of Reawakening
When was I asleep in the past year?
What do I want to be alert to in the year to come?
Since the start of the month of Elul 30 days ago, our internal calculators have been in overdrive. Cheshbon haNefesh means an accounting of the soul, reflecting on a whole year of triumphs and mistakes and asking for forgiveness as we work to forgive others. We look backwards in order to move forward.
Together, we make a toast to Recommitment, Judgment, Justice and Transparency, adapted from Rami M. Shapiro:
"Today we stand before the Mirror of All, to see ourselves as we are. We come with no gifts, no bribes, no illusions, no excuses, no defenses. We come with error and needless pain, but also joy and remembered moments of love and right doing. Let us be bold enough to see, humble enough to feel, daring enough to turn and embrace the way of justice, mercy and simplicity."
Blessing to Pursue Justice:
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu ruach ha'olam, asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu lirdof tzedek.
We praise You, Eternal God, Spirit of the universe, who calls us to holiness through mitzvot, commanding us to pursue justice.
Reflection Questions for Yom HaDin - Day of Judgment
From whom do I need forgiveness?
Who do I need to forgive?
Rituals are the place where we blend memories, identities and meaning. Rosh Hashanah is known as a day of remembrance - a monumental moment - where we sit in the balance between past and future. We remember our ancestors and our actions as we reflect on what they have taught us.
Together, we raise a glass and make a toast to Remembrance with this quote from Abraham Joshua Heschel:
“The authentic individual is neither an end nor a beginning but a link between ages, both memory and expectation...to us, recollection is a holy act; we sanctify the present by remembering the past. To us Jews, the essence of faith is memory. To believe is to remember.”
Blessing of Memory
Zichronam livracha, tzedek v’shalom
May the memories of those we have lost be for a blessing of righteousness and peace.
Reflection Questions for Yom HaZikaron - Day of Remembrance
Where did I dedicate my time, energy and resources in the past year?
Who and what do I want to remember from the past year?
Like people, the Universe has a birthday and it falls on Rosh Hashanah. And like our birthdays, it’s a moment for us to dwell in a moment of renewal and recreation. We open ourselves up and rewrite our stories and our aspirations for the next year.
As we close our Rosh Hashanah seder, we make a fourth and final toast to Recreation, adapted from Emily Stern:
“Each moment is a microcosm of who we are becoming. We bless each other and ourselves, celebrating our moments of gratitude. We bring presence and positivity into our hearts, and clarity about the truest, most authentic version of ourselves that, we pray, will find expression and aliveness in the coming year. We act as conscious co-creators with The Creator.”
Blessing of Creation
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melekh ha’olam, oseh maasei v’reishit.
We praise You, Eternal God, Spirit of the universe, who makes the works of creation.
Reflection Questions for HaYom Harat Olam - Day of Recreation
What do I want to practice, seek or commit myself to for the year to come?
What do I want to create for myself and the world?
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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