Rosh Hashanah: The New Year in September

Illustrated by Emily Cai

Mikayla Barber, MC ’24

Calendars can be complicated. They’re speckled with holiday names, some of which mean nothing to the majority of their viewers. Because of this, I’ve received the same question from many friends these past few weeks: “What is Rosh Hashanah?” In short, Rosh Hashanah is the celebration of the Jewish New Year, which marks the day the world was created. This holiday is one of the holiest in Judaism and is often spent in synagogue. 

 

For me, this year’s Rosh Hashanah was strange to celebrate away from home. Ten days following the start of Rosh Hashanah falls another one of the holiest Jewish holidays: Yom Kippur. It is during these ten days that people of the Jewish faith are meant to atone for their sins committed the prior year in hopes of being deemed righteous by God in the new year. Tashlich, which translates to “casting off,” is one of the most crucial parts of atonement. During this ceremony, which occurs the afternoon following the day Rosh Hashanah begins, it is traditional to throw bread crumbs or pebbles into flowing water. Another tradition marking Rosh Hashanah includes eating apples and honey, which symbolizes the beginning of a “sweet” new year. Growing up in a relatively Jewish suburb in New Jersey, I grew accustomed to school being closed for two days during the holiday. During this time, my family and I would perform our annual routine: attend synagogue, perform Tashlich, and enjoy apples and honey and dinner with the extended family.

 

I knew anything other than the Rosh Hashanah I was used to at home would feel a bit foreign. But I underestimated how difficult of a transition it would be. As a first year starting Yale at the peak of the pandemic, I felt overwhelmed. There was no extracurricular bazaar (or, at least, any navigable one). There were no friendly faces to give me the spiel about all the opportunities available to celebrate the high holidays. I didn’t know who to contact or where to go. I ended up attending my first Yale Rosh Hashanah services entirely online, later dining on a sad Kosher dinner alone in my dingle. I missed the flow of chatter I was so used to, and longed for home.

 

With this experience in the rearview, I hoped for a better holiday season as a sophomore—thankfully, Yale delivered. Not only were there three options for services for different levels of observance (reform, traditional-egalitarian, and YIHY), but I was also lucky enough to attend a lively Rosh Hashanah dinner; we were treated to delicious apples and honey (reminiscent of home), salad, chicken, challah bread and more. The dinner was open to all Yale students—leading to a completely packed tent—so I got to bring some of my non-Jewish friends and teach them a little bit about Rosh Hashanah (the basic history, its connection to Yom Kippur, and the reasoning behind nationwide school holidays); some of my friends even raved about the quality of Kosher meat and asked when they could come next! Slifka (Yale’s Center for Jewish Life) may be closed for the semester, but its presence is still very much alive campus-wide. 

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