Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur - By Shanit Marshall-Strang
I was having my masala tea one morning in the kitchen and Shanit walked in. The Jewish festivities had just finished and I asked how it was. As Shanit shared more and more, I thought it be wonderful to know more about these festivities and to share it with others who may not know as much about how beautiful and powerful these festivities are. So Shanit kindly wrote a little of what Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur mean for her.
The period we’ve just come out of is considered to be the most important in the annual calendar of Judaism. The 10 days between and including Rosh Hashanah, better known as jewish new year, and Yom Kippur, the jewish day of atonement, are known as the High Holy days. They are immediately followed by a festival called Sukkot, which is very much connected to the new harvest.
Whether you believe in God or not (and I don’t in the conventional sense of the idea), the symbolism of these festivals and the rituals that they demand, can be very powerful and enriching – they are about change and spiritual renewal. Rosh Hashanah, taking place at the beginning of autumn, is about the promise of the coming year. You eat apples dipped in honey, pomegranates, and honey cake, embodying the hope for a sweet new year. The time between Rosh Hashanah and up to and including Yom Kippur is a time of reflection. One of the rituals that takes place is Tashlich - casting away our regrets, letting go of the preoccupations that haunt us. And it leads up to Yom Kippur, during which we fast for around 26 hours, away from the distractions that comfort us and keep us from the rawness of our deepest feelings. The purpose of Yom Kippur is to reflect deeply on the ways in which we have caused injury to ourselves or others, perhaps through self-abandonment, self-betrayal, denial, lack of compassion towards ourselves or others. In the final hours of Yom-Kippur we ask to be inscribed in the Book of Life. Asking for another chance – from God or from ourselves, depending on what you believe in - not to shut down from life or lose faith. Both of these festivals are punctuated in synagogue by the incredible blast of a real ram’s horn, like a spiritual alarm clock, aimed at shattering our complacency or dissociation and waking us up, connecting us to places inside ourselves that we struggle to reach.