By Rabbi Jason Miller
The Jewish New Year celebration, Rosh Hashanah (Hebrew, meaning "the head of the year") begins on Wednesday evening and lasts until Friday. This year is 5774 in the Jewish calendar. Here are five things that everyone should know about the holiday.Popularity
On the Jewish calendar, this holiday is one of the big ones. Even members of the Jewish faith who aren’t regular synagogue attendees make a point of attending services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which occurs 10 days later (this year, it's Oct. 7). You’ll notice local synagogue parking lots are overflowing on these days. For some, Rosh Hashanah services are an opportunity for spiritual renewal and introspection. For others, this is a time to visit with friends and enjoy time with family.
The holiday celebrates the beginning of the Jewish calendar, but it is also a period of repentance. Beginning a month prior to Rosh Hashanah, Jewish people make an effort to offer forgiveness for their sins. Prayer, charitable giving, and repentance are the three ways to be written in the metaphorical book of life by God for another year. In addition to the beginning of the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah is a commemoration of the creation of the world, according to the Torah – the Jewish Bible.Shofar
Perhaps the most common symbol of Rosh Hashana is the ram’s horn that is blown in the synagogue. With 100 blasts, the shofar is considered a “wake-up call” to remind the Jewish people about the key task at hand — repentance.Food
Families gather around the table for large celebratory meals on Rosh Hashana. Traditional Jewish staples such as matzoh ball soup, gefilte fish and brisket can often be found on the dinner tables (especially in homes with Eastern European lineage). There are many foods traditionally eaten on Rosh Hashanah to symbolize the holiday’s many themes. Round challah (egg bread) is to signify continuity. Apples are dipped in honey as a blessing for a sweet new year. There is a custom to have a new and different fruit on the table as well.Observance
Just as with any faith tradition there are different levels of observance among the adherents. Orthodox and Conservative Jews will observe two days of the holiday, while most Reform Jews will only observe one. Some Jewish people will abstain from driving on the holiday and will walk to and from the synagogue instead. Adults will stay home from work and many students will miss school if it is in session.
This article originally ran on the West Bloomfield, N.J., Patch on Sept. 28, 2011.
ADAT ARI EL
A Conservative congregation in Valley Village, Adat Ari El holds a free Young Family Service (for preschoolers to second-graders and their parents) as well as a free Tekiah Family Service (for elementary school age children and their parents). Rosh Hashanah Day: 8:45 a.m.-9:30 a.m., 9:45 a.m.-10:30 a.m. (Young Family Service); 11 a.m.-noon (Tekiah Family Service); Yom Kippur: 8:45-9:30 a.m., 9:45-10:30 a.m. (Young Family Service); 11 a.m.-noon (Tekiah Family Service). Reservations required. Adat Ari El, 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 766-9426. adatariel.org.
SHOMREI TORAH SYNAGOGUE
For families with third- to seventh-graders! These free services feature a full band, interactive stories, high-energy music and inclusive participation. Led by Rabbi Erez Sherman. Babysitting available for children 2 to 5. Rosh Hashanah day: 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; Yom Kippur: 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Reservations required. Pomelo Elementary School, 7633 March Ave., West Hills. (818) 346-0811. stsonline.org.
TEMPLE AHAVAT SHALOM
Geared toward families with young children (8 and under), these free hour-long services offer opportunities for children and adults alike to join in both traditional and contemporary song and prayer while sharing in stories and special Torah readings reflecting the mood of the season. Erev Rosh Hashanah: 6-7 p.m.; Rosh Hashanah day: 8:30- 9:30 a.m.; Kol Nidre: 6-7 p.m.; Yom Kippur: 8:30- 9:30 a.m. No reservations necessary. Temple Ahavat Shalom, 18200 Rinaldi Place, Northridge. (818) 360-2258. tasnorthridge.org.
College students and military personnel are welcome to attend these Conservative services for free. Please contact synagogue for a list of service times and tickets. Student or military ID required. (818) 346-3545. templealiyah.org.
The Reform community opens its doors to children and their families for Tot High Holy Day services on both Rosh Hashanah day and on Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah day: 4 p.m.; Yom Kippur: 3:30 p.m. No reservations necessary. Temple Judea, 5429 Lindley Ave., Tarzana. (818) 758-3800. templejudea.com.
TEMPLE KOL TIKVAH
The Reform community holds free family services on Rosh Hashanah day and on Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah day: 2:30 p.m.; Yom Kippur: 2:30 p.m, 5:15 p.m. Temple Kol Tikvah, 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 348-0670. koltikvah.org.