Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year. Known collectively as the High Holy Days or Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe), Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) are the most solemn days of the Jewish year. Rosh Hashanah (“head of the year” in Hebrew) commemorates the creation of the world. On Rosh Hashanah, the liturgy tells us that God begins a process of judging – not only our ongoing covenantal relationship, but also our individual actions from the prior year and our fate in the year to come. The holiday ushers in 10 days of repentance that end with Yom Kippur, and during which Jews begin a process of making amends and introspection.
On Rosh Hashanah, a shofar (a ram’s horn that makes a trumpet-like noise) is blown in Jewish communities across the world. This rouses us from our complacency, indicating the hour has arrived for careful self-examination and the seeking of forgiveness from those we may have wronged during the previous year. It also alerts us to the coming judgment and our ability, through earnest repentance, to change our fates before God renders final judgment on Yom Kippur.
During Rosh Hashanah, we read the story of the Binding of Isaac, in which God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son and then, at the last second, stays Abraham’s hand and provides a goat for the sacrifice instead.
Many Jews eat apples and honey together during Rosh Hashanah to symbolize a wish for a sweet new year. Tashlich is another Rosh Hashanah custom, in which we symbolically cast away our sins by tossing breadcrumbs into a body of water, such as a river, ocean or stream.
For Discussion – Our modern-day challenge:
As we celebrate the world’s creation, we are presented with a fresh opportunity to help with its re-creation – reaffirming the majesty of the world we live in, and working to make it even more perfect. How can advocacy play a role in hastening this world improvement? How does reducing global hunger and poverty strengthen our partnership with God?
Abraham’s dedication to God is such that he is willing to sacrifice his own son on God’s command. What do God’s request, and his ultimate sparing of Isaac, indicate about the importance of sacrifice in achieving God’s vision of a sacred community based on compassion and justice?
Activities for Advocates:
Introduce something new into your community’s Rosh Hashanah observance: Have members start the New Year by making a pledge to take an active role in a specific community or global issue – be it reducing local homelessness or encouraging Third World farming as a way to alleviate poverty abroad. Have people write down their pledges and turn them into a social action committee, which can be in charge of follow-up throughout the year ahead.
Host an “Apples & Honey for Advocates” reception. Line up a guest speaker who can focus on a particular subject (e.g., reducing HIV/AIDS in Africa), and then provide attendees with some opportunities to get involved in the issue.