With the setting of sun on Wednesday, Sept. 28, Jews around the world will begin the annual celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
"In Hebrew, Rosh Hashanah means, literally, 'Head of the Year,'" it says on the JewishUtah.com website. "The anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, it is the birthday of mankind, highlighting the special relationship between G d and humanity." (There is a traditional Jewish practice not to write or print the Hebrew name of God, and some extend that reverence and respect to English.)
Rosh Hashanah heralds the newness of the year with special traditions such as the blowing of the Shofar, or ram's horn, which symbolizes a trumpet fanfare at the coronation of a king. Mostly sweet foods are eaten in celebration of Rosh Hashanah, such as challah bread dipped in honey or apple slices dipped in honey, to symbolize the desire for a sweet year.
"We bless one another with the words, 'Leshanah tovah, tikateiv Veteichateim,' which means," the website said, "'May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.'"
Rabbi Benny Zippel will lead Rosh Hashanah service at Chabad Lubavich of Utah (1760 S. 1100 East in Salt Lake City) on Wednesday at 7 p.m. and Thursday and Friday at 9:30 a.m. Shofar blowing will occur Friday and Saturday at 11:30 a.m. each day.
All are welcome to attend, regardless of background or affiliation, Rabbi Zippel said.
Rosh Hashanah is just the first of Judaism's High Holy Days, which continue through Yom Kippur in October.
"More than just a series of days on a calendar, or merely an occasion for the obligatory visit to synagogue, the High Holy Days offer a month-long opportunity for self-reflection, communal prayer and ritual that together allow us each to create our own spiritual journey," wrote Lauren Bottner in the Jewish Journal.
The 10 days leading from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur (which falls this year on Oct. 8) are referred to as the Days of Awe, or 10 days of Repentance, during which time should be spent in serious reflection, repentance and making amends.
"This is a time of year when we seek reconciliation with people we may have wronged during the year, or at any time," Bottner wrote. "According to the Talmud, on Yom Kippur we can atone for sins between ourselves and God, but for our sins against people, we must seek forgiveness from those people and attempt to right any wrongs we may have committed."
Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, is generally considered by Jews to be the holiest day of the year. It goes back to the days of Moses, and commemorates the day that God forgave the Children of Israel for the sin of the Golden Calf.
"From that moment on, this date . . . is annually observed as a commemoration of our special relationship with G d, a relationship that is strong enough to survive any rocky bumps it might encounter," the Jewish Utah website notes. "This is a day when we connect with the very essence of our being, which remains faithful to G d regardless of our outward behavior."
The focal point of Yom Kippur is a full day — actually, nearly 26 hours — of fasting (children and those who cannot fast for health reasons are not expected to do so).
"We abstain from food and drink, do not wash or anoint our bodies, do not wear leather footwear and abstain from spousal intimacy," the Jewish Utah website continues. "We are likened to the angels, who have no physical needs. Instead of focusing on the physical, we spend much of our day in the synagogue, engaged in repentance and prayer."
At the conclusion of Yom Kippur's fasting is a huge feast, after which preparations begin for Sukkot (Oct. 12), the Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles), a seven-day festival that commemorates God's protection of the Jews during their 40 years of wandering in the desert. For these seven days, many Jews will build a sukkah, a three-sided booth made from a material that grows from the ground. During the week they will eat their meals in the sukkah — many will also sleep and socialize there. There is also a special traditional prayer that is given while holding four different kinds of branches — citron, palm, myrtle and willow — waving the branches in all directions, representing God's presence everywhere.
Also celebrated during the coming weeks: Simchat Torah (Oct. 20-21), a joyful celebration of the completion of the annual cycle of reading the Torah, during which congregational members take turns dancing with the Torah scrolls.
"The rituals, prayers, meditations and deeds of the High Holy Days are designed to respond to a deep psychological need of all human beings to make some sense of their lives," wrote Rabbi Al Sulkes of Tallahassee, Fla. "Yet as important as self-examination is, the other aspect is equally important. It is never too late to turn your life around. Contemplation must be followed by action. Past is prologue, but what you do today and tomorrow is all that really matters."
Rabbi Sulkes told of another rabbi who taught her disciples that everyone should repent the day before they die. The disciples were perplexed and responded, "No one knows the day they are going to die."
The rabbi replied, "Then make every day a day of repentance."