At sundown this Wednesday, September 20, a new year will begin in the Hebrew calendar with the celebration of Rosh Hashanah. The first of the Jewish high holidays, Rosh Hashanah rings in the new year on a festive, joyful note, while still calling for serious reflection on the year that just passed.
For example, it's customary to eat apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah to signify a sweet and pleasant year to come. But another tradition, known as Tashlich, sees people tossing pieces of bread into a body of water to acknowledge the mistakes they made in the past year that they intend to cast out of their lives. Rosh Hashanah calls on people to start the new year off on a happy note and on a penitent one.
In addition to symbolically leaving their sins behind and eating sweet things, it's common for Jewish people to attend special synagogue services, where a ram's horn, known as the shofar, is blown in honor of the holiday.
Rabbi Hain says the sound of the shofar is associated with the high holidays and helps people access a more introspective mindset. "It’s sounding an alarm as if to say, 'Hey, take stock," he says, alluding to importance of reflection during the Jewish high holidays.
Perhaps the clearest example of Rosh Hashanah's duality is that, amid these group forms of worship and celebration, one might find a very specific, personal meaning to the holiday. "It’s up to you to figure out what the year has been," Rabbi Hain says.
Maybe you're more interested in celebrating your past accomplishments from the previous year than you are to look toward the future. Or, having reflected on the lessons you learned last year, you're ready to implement them in the months to come. As long as you greet your family and friends with a hearty "Shana tova!" (which translates to "may it be a great year"), you'll be off to a good start.