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Rosh Hashanah: What is it and how do Jewish people celebrate?

Rosh Hashanah, which signifies the start of the Jewish new year, begins at sunset Friday, Sept. 15 and lasts until sunset Sunday, Sept. 17.
Rosh Hashanah
Posted at 12:55 PM, Sep 15, 2023

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Happy New Year!

Well, Jewish New Year.

From sundown on Friday, Sept. 15 until sundown on Sunday, Sept. 17, Jews celebrate Rosh Hashanah, which signifies the start of the new year.

Rosh Hashanah: What is it and how do Jewish people celebrate?

"Jews around the world celebrate a new year every single fall, just as the seasons change," said Rabbi Michael Shadick with Temple Emanuel in Grand Rapids. "It's wonderful for us because as the temperatures get colder, we think anew about our lives: who we are, what we might want to do that we didn't have a chance to do all summer.”

Rosh Hashanah falls in the month of Tishrei. Being the start of the new year, Tishrei, to some, marks the first month on a Jewish calendar.

However, in the Torah, it's often referred to as the seventh month. That's because Nisan, the month in which the Exodus from Egypt occurred, is most often referred to as the first month.

The year we are entering on the Jewish calendar is different than the Gregorian calendar we all use universally.

On the Gregorian calendar, it's currently 2023. On the Jewish calendar, we are beginning the year 5784.

The way Jews celebrate their new year is a little different as well.

"It's not about how much weight can I lose, or how many times can I get to the gym," Shadick said. "It's about, 'How do I grow as a human being? How can I be a better person from the inside out, interacting with friends and family? How do I approach those that I have hurt and ask for their apologies? How do I grow as a member of the human family,' and not just, 'How do I improve my diet or my reps at the gym?'"

There are several symbols included in the Rosh Hashanah tradition. Perhaps the two biggest ones are the shofar and the pairing of apples and honey.

Shofar

The shofar is a hollow ram's horn, sounded in front of a congregation.

"It really is meant to wake us up out of our lethargy," Shadick said. "Wake us up to do better. Wake us up to improve who we are in our lives.”

Apples and Honey Rosh Hashanah

For apples and honey, it's all about starting the year off on a sweet note.

"Apples dipped in honey remind us of what our prayers are for the future," Shadick said. "Our lives should be sweet. We eat apples dipped in honey, our bread challah dipped in honey, also, for the same reason. We eat sweet foods to remind us that our prayers, we hope, will be answered with sweetness and kindness, and just as this is sweet, you want to interact with each other to be sweet."

In fact, this time of year, it's customary to say, "Shana Tova." That translates to: "Have a good, sweet new year."

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