I would like to have a meaningful Rosh Hashanah this year, but going to services just isn’t for me. How can I take part in this holiday without sitting in synagogue all day?
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, has many names and many traditions. It marks the beginning of the High Holy Days and is called the Day of Judgment, Day of Remembrance, and Day of the Shofar Blast.
Like so many other holidays, an important way to celebrate Rosh Hashanah is to be with family and friends. Rosh Hashanah dinner is a festive meal and a time to share good food with others. The home celebration begins with lighting of the festival candles, kiddush (the blessing over wine), eating apples dipped in honey, and breaking bread together.
We dip our apples in honey with the hope and intention that our new year will be sweet. Whether or not you have young children, preceding the holiday with an apple-picking expedition and saving the apples for dipping time adds extra meaning to this yummy snack.
Again and again in the High Holiday prayerbook, or machzor, we read, Hayom harat ha-olam, “today is the birthday of the world.” This year we reach 5773 years, by Biblical counting, since Creation. Rosh Hashanah, a day of new beginning, can be a day to celebrate creation by immersing yourself in the natural world, walking through a park or woods, or simply sitting in your own yard and listening for birds or watching butterflies. The key to making this time different from other nature walks is the focus on the sanctity of the created world and our connection to it.
Tashlich (“to cast off”) involves going to an ocean, river, or stream on Rosh Hashanah afternoon and casting our “sins” into the water as we recite words from Micah 7:19, “You shall cast into the depths of the sea all their sins,” and dropping bread crumbs into the water. (Breadcrumbs are in essence a pollutant, so a first step in the process of teshuvah, or re-turn to G!d, could be to use instead bits of leaves or pine needles or small pebbles.) With each crumb or pine needle that we cast into the water, we remember and name, aloud or to ourselves, one aspect of our behavior that we would like to “cast away,” an exercise that is especially meaningful when done with close family or friends.
A unique Rosh Hashanah observance is hearing the blasts of the shofar, or ram’s horn. The primeval sound of the shofar is a powerful call to teshuvah, helping us remember and acknowledge our short-comings, and urging us to let them go. One way to hear the shofar is to buy and blow your own, which can be done at a reasonable cost and with reasonable preparation. You can then take your shofar into the woods with you! Alternatively, attending services for a short time, or – especially, but not exclusively, if you have young children – attending a children’s service, which many synagogues offer might be a great compromise.
Of all that you do on Rosh Hashanah, perhaps the most important is to judge yourself, to take time, with your family or alone, to reflect on the year past, what you would like to change in your personal behavior, and how to go about doing it.
Rabbi Katy Z. Allen is the rabbi of Ma’yan Tikvah – A Wellspring of Hope, which holds informal outdoor servies all year long in and near Wayland. She is also a staff chaplain at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
For recipes, ideas for celebrating Rosh Hashanah with children and families, Tashlich resources and more, visit InterfaithFamily’s Rosh Hashanah Resource Page.