Debra Darvick introduces Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

Debra Darvick wrote “the book” on the cycles of the Jewish year, as experienced by men and women each year. This Jewish Life tells dozens of real-life stories about the Jewish cycle of seasons. Throughout the book, Debra also writes brief introductions to major observances. From her book, here is …

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur


On Rosh HaShanah it is written; on Yom Kippur it is sealed.
From the Un’taneh Tokef, High Holiday Liturgy

Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, are often referred to as Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe. Indeed, the 10 days that begin with Rosh HaShanah and conclude with Yom Kippur are filled not only with prayer but with soul searching, pleas for forgiveness and a commitment to spiritual and moral renewal. A special siddur, or prayer book, is used at this time. Called a machzor, this book contains not only the daily and Sabbath prayers said during this time, but also special readings and prayers pertinent to the High Holidays.

Tradition holds that during the days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, God reviews the deeds of each and every Jew during the past year and judges whether the individual merits inclusion in the Book of Life for the coming year. Through proper atonement and asking forgiveness (not only from God but from those whom we may have wronged), every Jew hopes to be sealed in the Book of Life for the year to come.

One of the most stirring elements of the High Holidays is the blowing of the shofar, ram’s horn. Remember that in the last moment before Abraham sacrificed his son Isaac, God called out to him and instructed him to sacrifice a ram, caught in a nearby thicket, in place of Isaac. The use of the shofar (plural, shofarot) commemorates this event and reminds God to take note of His Jewish people and their prayers for life.

The shofar is blown according to specific musical patterns named t’kiah, t’ruah, sh’varim. At the very end of the shofar service, these patterns are followed by a t’kiah g’dolah, one long blast of sound that, depending on an individual’s lung capacity, can last up to or even longer than a minute.

On the afternoon of the first day of Rosh HaShanah, many Jews walk to a nearby body of water to perform Tashlich, or casting off. Emptying their pockets of breadcrumbs (which symbolize their sins), they throw the crumbs into the water and then recite prayers of penitence.

The Days of Awe culminate with Yom Kippur. Next to the Sabbath, it is considered to be the most sacred day of the Jewish calendar. Yom Kippur is given over to prayer and self-reflection. Jews who have reached the age of religious maturity (13 for boys, 12 for girls), and whose health would not be compromised, are expected to fast from sunset to sunset.

The hymn “Avinu Malkeinu,” “Our Father Our King,” sung on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, is a stirring component of each High Holiday service. The words of the hymn offer admission of transgressions as well as pleas for compassion, blessings and an end of suffering. On Yom Kippur the cantor chants the haunting melody of the Kol Nidrei prayer. Kol Nidrei means “all vows,” and it is the prayer by which Jews nullify any vow made by force or frivolity during the previous year. Yom Kippur services the next day include Yizkor, a service that memorializes deceased relatives. The mourner’s Kaddish is recited once again at this time, and services end at sunset.

Apples and honey are eaten during this season, in hopes of a sweet year. Challah, the rich and braided bread that is part of every festive meal, is also eaten, but during these holidays the loaf is shaped into a circle to symbolize the unending cycle of Jewish life.

When either Rosh HaShanah or Yom Kippur fall on the Sabbath, the day also concludes with a Havdalah service. Derived from the Hebrew word for “separation,” the weekly Havdalah ceremony separates the holy from the mundane, the Sabbath day from the rest of the week. Once three stars appear in the sky, the ceremony can be performed. Blessings are said over wine, a special braided candle and fragrant spices, and wishes for a shavuah tov, a good week, are sung.

Care to read the personal stories?

Debra Darvick’s book follows these seasonal introductions with inspiring—sometimes entertaining and sometimes bittersweet—real-life stories. You’ll find her book in our ReadTheSpirit Bookstore—as well as in the Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google and Apple online bookstores.

Please help to support our authors by purchasing their books and sharing them with others. One way to share Debra’s work is to click the blue-“f” Facebook icon or the small envelope-shaped email icon with this story. Tell a friend.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Tell Us What You Think