Quick! What the Hell is Rosh Hashanah?

By Wendy Thomas Russell | September 5, 2013 | 5 comments

This post originally appeared in September 2011.

I’m one of those people who forgets stuff, especially stuff that’s the least bit complicated or unusual. I’m just challenged that way. To retain much of anything, I have to write it down — and, even then, there’s a shelf-life to my knowledge. I think that’s why I take such copious notes and then keep those notes for pretty much my entire life.

I still have my diary from when I was 12. And even though nothing remotely complicated or unusual is written there, I can report to you that I really, really, really hearted Billy when I was 12. I also hearted Jason when I was 12. And Joel. And Dustin. And then Billy again. And then Dustin again. I was such a whore.

Anyway, the point is I’m bad about remembering lots of things, and religious holidays are among them. As much as I want to remember what they represent, I never do. I keep having to ask over and over and over again. Are you like that? No? I hate you now. Please go away.

For the rest of you, Happy Rosh Hashanah! Because, apparently, it’s that time of year. Which brings me to this — the first installment of my Holiday Cheat Sheet for Nonreligious Parents, a series that will give parents the quick run-down on major religious holidays so that they might come across as intelligent beings to their kids. Also, and most importantly, religious holidays are a fantastic way to convey an openness about religion in your family while helping your kids become religiously literate.

Holiday: Rosh Hashanah

Religion Represented: Judaism

Date: The 1st and 2nd of the month of Tishrei in the Hebrew calendar. This year, the holiday started last night (Sept. 4) and ends tomorrow evening (Sept. 6).

What It Is: The Jewish New Year

Not To Be Confused With: Yom Kippur, which occurs 10 days later.

How Important Is It?: I asked my friend and former editor Jason Gewirtz. Here’s what he said: “Rosh Hashanah is a big, big deal. It’s the start of the Jewish new year. Yom Kippur the next week is only slightly bigger. [On a scale of 1 to 10], I’d say Rosh Hashanah is a 9.5 and Yom Kippur a 10. There’s nothing bigger than the two of them. They’re tied to each other. The period in between is supposed to be a time of mending any fences, if you will, and reflecting on things that can be improved from the previous year… It’s said that on Rosh Hashanah you’ll either be written in or out of the Book of Life for the coming year. But on Yom Kippur, the book is sealed, meaning you’ve got that time in between to screw up or make your righteousness known.”

The Good Stuff: Foodwise, this holiday is associated with apples and honey (symbolizing a sweet new year), as well as pomegranates and challah (braided bread). Also, in lieu of stupid hats and tasseled squawkers, celebrants sport the traditional yarmulke and blow a cool-looking horn called a shofar.

Conveying Meaning to Kids: At dinner [two years ago] I explained to my daughter that Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is a time for reflecting on your life and challenging yourself to become a better human being. I served apples and pomegranates and asked Maxine to come up with one way that she might improve. Coincidentally, she had been reprimanded for being silly in her kindergarten class that morning, so her idea of self-improvement was to better follow her teacher’s instructions. I said my own resolution would be to spend less time looking at my phone. (Then on Yom Kippur, we checked in with each other about how well we did. The results? Well, a bit meh on both accounts. Luckily, we’re not religious…)

So there you go. Rosh Hashanah. Hope you enjoyed it. And don’t worry. I’ll run this blog again next year. By then, I will have long since forgotten everything I just wrote.


5 comments

  1. Johannes says:

    Thanks Wendy for the ever insightful reminders! ;)
    One question left open for me is how do I “greet” people celebrating this holiday? “Happy Rosh Hashanah”?

  2. kiki douglas says:

    At the risk of sounding like I’m blowing my own shofar, I knew all about Yom Kippur but I didn’t know all that much about Rosh Hashanah. Reading your post filled in a quite few blanks. Thanks Wendy!

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