The year is 5771. No really, it is. Sundown last Thursday marked the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and day one of year 5771 on the Hebrew calendar. Rosh Hashanah is the first celebration of the 10 Days of Repentance that make up the High Holy Days, ending tonight and tomorrow with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
While there are other well-known Jewish holidays such as Passover, the High Holy Days are especially important because they are a time of introspection and self evaluation. Much like the civil calendar’s New Year, Rosh Hashanah is a time to reflect on the events and actions of the past year and make goals for the upcoming year.
Sacred texts hold that Rosh Hashanah is a day of judgment in which God evaluates Jews on their actions of the past year. Although it is on the first day of the Jewish calendar year that God decides which of his tribe have been faithful and obedient, it is not until 10 days later, on Yom Kippur, that these judgments are officially sealed.
The 10 Days of Repentance are an opportunity to seek God’s forgiveness. Faithful Jews do this by contacting and apologizing to everyone they have wronged in the past year.
Yom Kippur is the most solemn day of the Jewish year. It is also the most culturally significant of the Jewish holidays. Rabbi Hersch Y. Spalter of Chabad Lubavitch Synagogue in San José says that because of this the number of attendees in Costa Rican synagogues swell to several thousand people during these two days.
Both the orthodox synagogue, Chabad Lubavitch, and San José’s reform synagogue, B’nai Israel, hold services for the high holidays.
Yom Kippur is a day of strengthening the relationship that every person has with God, says Spalter.
“The idea is of praying and relating with God, connecting with God. That’s what the day of Yom Kippur is really about.”
There are five prayer services during Yom Kippur, and the entirety of the holiday, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, is spent in fasting. Starting 20 minutes before sundown the previous evening, observing Jews abstain from bathing, sexual intercourse and wearing leather shoes, in addition to not eating or drinking.
The end of the fast is punctuated by the sounding of the shofar, a traditional instrument used almost exclusively for religious purposes. The shofar is blown like a bugle and can be made from the horn of any kosher animal, although it is most often made from the horn of a ram to symbolize the animal sacrifices in the Hebrew Bible.
The High Holy Days are a time for seriousness and reverence, but they are also cause for celebration. Jews celebrate by making and eating food specially prepared at this time of year.
On Rosh Hashanah, the New Year’s goals are symbolized by eating apples and honey in hope of a “sweet” year to come.