Berger's Burg: Jews hope for prosperity, peace in coming new year

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At sundown Sept. 18, the blowing of the shofar — ram’s horn — in synagogues will mark the start of Rosh Hashanah and the Jewish New Year of 5770. The High Holy Days will culminate with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, at sundown Sept. 27.

The High Holy Days could be called the “hi” holidays because Jews who have not seen each other all year gather in synagogues to say, “Hi.”

Rosh Hashanah is just like New Year’s Eve — except for a few variations. Instead of a large ball being dropped in the Big Apple, apples are dropped into honey and eaten for an anticipated sweet new year. Instead of donning party hats and blowing noise-makers at Times Square, Jews gather in synagogues, wear prayer shawls and blow the shofar. Instead of only making resolutions for the new year, Jews also ask for forgiveness of their sins from the previous year.

The first of two new rabbis offered these petitions in his Rosh Hashanah prayer: “May your hair, teeth, facelift and stocks not fall. And may your blood pressure, cholesterol and mortgage interest rate not rise.”

This is a time of celebration, but also of introspection and prayer. The two-day period is the beginning of the Ten Days of Awe — a week and a half during which Jews are supposed to reflect upon their past actions and think about how they can improve religiously in the coming year. The Days of Awe are filled with special prayers and religious rituals and culminate with Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year on the Jewish calendar.

The second rabbi preached, “May you have a spouse, a child, a friend or a grandchild who loves you, even though they really know you.”

Rosh Hashanah — “head of the year” — consists in large part of feasting and prayer. Synagogues are customarily crowded and many houses of worship sell tickets for holiday seats — proceeds go to charity and the synagogues’ upkeep. Some synagogues hire professional cantors to lead the service, which includes the blowing of the shofar 100 times to awaken feelings of repentance among those listening. This holiday is called the “day of trumpeting” in the Torah.

A reporter looking for a local angle on an annual Rosh Hashanah story began his account this way: “Jews in New York City ushered in the New Year in traditional style, filling synagogues with prayer and parking on both sides of the street.”

At home, families join in festive meals whose structure symbolizes the new year. They eat apples dipped in honey, round loaves of challah bread with raisins and sweet deserts like honey cake to symbolize the sweetness with which they hope the coming year will bring. In some ceremonies, the head of the household eats the head of a fish or lamb, representing the head of the year. Jews also eat “new fruits” — fruits people do not regularly eat during the year, such as yellow kiwi — to signify the beginning of the new year.

The salesman had just placed a business call on the High Holy Days and asked the receptionist to connect him with Mr. Cohen. “Sir, this is Rosh Hashanah!” “Oh, hi, Rosh, but I still want Mr. Cohen.”

Rosh Hashanah is also the Day of Judgment since it is the time Jews believe God determines their fortunes for the next year. They pray for good health, happiness and sustenance and that God should inscribe them in the Book of Life. According to tradition, God seals the fate of the completely wicked and completely righteous on Rosh Hashanah. All those in the middle have until Yom Kippur to convince God of the good fortune they deserve.

Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year because it is the birthday of the single most important ingredient in Life: HOPE — Rabbi Simon Jacobson

Therefore, it is a day of serious introspection and prayer. To prepare for the holiday, many Jews immerse themselves in a ritual bath to help achieve a state of ritual purity. Others wear white to represent cleanliness from sin.

It is also a day of fasting. No food or water is permitted for the period that begins Yom Kippur eve at sundown and ends at darkness the next day. The synagogue service revolves around forgiveness, but not just from God. Jews also ask their fellow humans for forgiveness when it comes to the sins they may have committed against other people — Jews or non-Jews. The keys to attaining God’s grace are sincere repentance, heartfelt prayer and charitable kindness.

So at this prayerful time, Gloria and I wish everyone a happy, prosperous and sweet new year. Peace!

Contact Alex Berger at

Posted 6:29 pm, October 10, 2011
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