“Happy New Year!” you might hear people say as you wander around campus. You think to yourself, “Huh? Has the semester really creeped up on us that fast that it is already time for winter break?” Unlike the secular new year, the Jewish New Year, also known as Rosh Hashanah, falls sometime during the fall. The Jewish holidays follow the Hebrew calendar, which is based on the lunar cycle. Therefore, the date of these Holidays on the secular calendar vary from year to year. However, Rosh Hashanah begins the evening of the first day of the Hebrew month, Tishri. Together Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, are known as the ‘Days of Awe,’ and are the most important and holiest of days on the Jewish calendar.
Depending on which denomination of Judaism you most closely follow, the way that you celebrate a holiday can vary. Still, there are some customs and traditions that ring true no matter how you identify. Most Jews will eat apples and honey and hear the blowing of the shofar during Rosh Hashanah.
Indulging in the sweet treat of dipping an apple into honey is symbolic of the sweetness one hopes to bring with them into the new year. Thus, it makes sense that a customary phrase to say to someone during the holiday is “shanah tovah u’metukah,” which translates to “a good and sweet year.”
This is not the only custom that involves one of your senses. A shofar is a ram’s horn that is blown like a trumpet. There are many symbolic reasons as to why we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. One is that Rosh Hashanah is the start of the “Ten Days of Repentance” and the shofar acts as an alarm clock to wake up our spirits and start to think about our actions over the last year. Others believe that the shofar was blown at Mt. Sinai when the Torah was given to Moses and the shofar is supposed to remind us to rededicate ourselves to Torah study.
Arguably, repentance is the most important aspect of the Holiday. Rosh Hashanah is a time for Jews to make amends for their sins and start anew. The tradition of Tashlich, “cast off,” involves throwing bread into a body of water as participants reflect on their past year and cast away their sins.
One of my favorite things about Rosh Hashanah is that it is the perfect time to come together as a community to celebrate all that has happened and all that will come. I have always loved the comradery that this holiday brings. However, my first year at Keene State, I found myself dreading this time of year. As you may have noticed, there are not many Jews in New Hampshire, and of those in this world that are Jewish, they don’t seem to be flocking to Keene State. Since religion plays such an important role in my life, I felt incredibly alone and anxious to take off classes to honor the holidays appropriately during my first year here. My friends were incredibly supportive yet I still could not fill the void that existed within me from not talking about my customs and traditions with people that truly understood them. I truly believe that no one should ever feel alone or anxious due to their religion or anything else. I am so excited to have a group of people to celebrate with this year. We went apple picking for Rosh Hashanah and even attended services at a local synagogue for Erev Rosh Hashanah. Even if you are not Jewish, if you are feeling alone or anxious, I invite you to come to Hillel, and find a community of people who know what it feels like and can start a conversation.
This year we are in efforts to revitalize our Hillel, an organization which strives to foster participation and understanding around Jewish culture. We welcome everyone to our weekly meetings and events—you do not have to be Jewish to attend! Meetings are typically held on Tuesday evenings at 8 in the library. There is so much excitement brewing about the other events we have coming up including a shabbat dinner, a Chanukah party, and a potential Purim carnival.
Morgan Rosen can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org