Jewish: Meet a year as sweet as honey on Rosh Hashanah

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SUNSET WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 28: It’s a holiday as sweet as honey for Jewish families tonight, and the dishes spread out on tables around the world reflect the “sweet New Year” of 5772.

Since ancient times, Jews have regarded honey as a metaphor for fertility and health—and a nutritious food for children, according to the Hebrew scriptures. (For recipes and personal stories, read features in the LA Times or Washington Post.) Jewish tables around the world tonight will be set with apples and honey or perhaps pomegranates, challah (bread) with honey, spicy honey cake and more. (For Rosh Hashanah study guides, recipes, kids’ activities and more, visit Chabad.org.)

Rosh Hashanah stories for children—and for adults

FOR CHILDREN: As with all Jewish holidays, many layers of meaning and streams of traditional stories flow through the observance. Chabad.org provides a half dozen Rosh Hashanah stories appropriate for children, including two tales about the Shofar.

FOR ADULTS: This week, ReadTheSpirit is welcoming Rabbi Jill Jacobs—whose global work on behalf of social justice has ranked her year after year among America’s “most influential rabbis.” Rosh Hashanah is more than just a night of celebration; this is the first of the Jewish High Holidays, or Days of Awe. Overall, this is an extended period when Jewish men and women contemplate the value of their lives in the past year, make amends with other people and with God—and set goals for the new year. Rabbi Jill Jacobs is sure to stir your personal reflections—and we invite you to tell a friend about her work.

Distinguishing Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

At Yom Kippur, men and women enter into a somber day-long fast. But, tonight? Rosh Hashanah encourages joyous celebration with a pure heart and high hopes for restoring the goodness in our lives and the world. Jewish Chronicle Online compares the experience of the New Year with returning to Eden, then outlines a number of distinctions between the two holidays: “Yom Kippur is all about our sins, while on Rosh Hashanah we make no mention of them at all. On Yom Kippur we beat our hearts, confess our failings and pray for forgiveness. On Rosh Hashanah we do none of these; in fact, we hardly refer to our everyday lives at all.”

One Day or Two? Ask a friend or neighbor about custons

Beyond the honey and other popular sweet customs, traditions vary widely in Jewish homes around the world. Some observe the holiday for one day, while others observe it for two days; some families host special dinners at Rosh Hashanah; some may “cast off” sins by emptying their pockets into a river. No observant Jew works on Rosh Hashanah. If you are not Jewish, you may want to ask Jewish friends and neighbors about their family traditions for celebrating this major holiday. You’ll enjoy hearing the responses.

One experience that Jews fondly anticipate is the sound of the Shofar or traditional horn. Rosh Hashanah is referred to as “Yom Teru’ah” in the Torah, “a day of sounding the Shofar.” (Wikipedia has details.)

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