Isn’t it a bit early for a New Year drink and resolutions and plans for the coming year? Well, not in this part of the world. Because, it is of course, time for Rosh HaShana (translated as ‘Head of the Year’), the Jewish New Year. And not unlike New Year celebrations in other parts of the world, a Jewish New Year also brings holiday greetings all wrapped up in presents, big family gatherings and hefty overdraft facilities.
If you’re here in Israel over the holidays, expect a lot of places to close down over the coming days as it’s the start of the High Holidays (we did warn you!), with Sukkotand Yom Kippur to follow. The holiday season this year (2021) kicks off on Monday evening with the big family meal.
I don’t know about you and yours, but here in Israel the family meals are BIG (up to 80 guests). Although apparently this year it’s probably going to be a Lite version (with Corona still doing its damage). But the alcohol will be flowing, always a good thing we say…and unlike the biggest holiday in the Jewish calendar, Passover, there are no restrictions on what can or can’t be eaten. In fact, I’m preparing myself mentally for quite a feast, as should you if you get invited along to a big Jewish New Year meal!
According to Jewish custom, Rosh HaShana occurs on the first day of Tishrei, which is the seventh month in the Hebrew calendar. It also signifies the start of the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe), which are days for sinners to focus on all the bad things they’ve gotten up to over the last year, climaxing in the holiday of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).
In the Talmud it is written that three separate books of account are opened on Rosh HaShana. The names of the righteous are entered in the book of life, and they are sealed “to live”, the waverers are given ten days, until Yom Kippur, to repent and become righteous while the naughty sinners are “blotted out of the book of the living.” So, if you hear a shofar (ram’s horn) being blown (to waken those that need reminding that this is the time to repent), go start repenting (only if you need to, of course).
Some traditional New Year customs to watch out for include apples being dipped in honey, the blowing of rams horns (and plastic toy ones for the kids), and yes, the eating of fish heads (to signify the “head of the year” – and yes, it’s as nasty as it sounds…).
Important salutations to know:
Shana Tova – Happy New Year! Shan Tova oometuka – A Happy and Sweet New Year!