The evening of Friday 18 September marks the beginning of the new Jewish year and the start of three weeks of festivals, which is going to be very difficult this year because of COVID-19 and the strict rule of six. Many people will be unable to attend synagogue services or gather with families and friends for the festive meals.
Rosh Hashanah, which means ‘head of the year’ begins on Friday evening. We light the candles and start our festive meal by asking God for a year of sweetness and renewal. On the first night we eat apple dipped in honey and a new fruit that we haven’t tasted since its season began. Many people choose pomegranates because they are full of seeds. Traditionally we also eat honey cake.
A Shofar, which is a ram’s horn, the oldest and most primitive of wind instruments is blown. The sound is simple yet powerful like a cry from the heart. It also evokes key events in Jewish history such as the binding of Isaac when Abraham sacrificed a ram in place of his son. This year Chabad Gants Hill is holding a special Shofar-blowing Ceremony on Sunday 20 September at 2pm in the Rose Garden in Clayhall Park and 5pm in Valentines Park on Cranbrook Road (by the Valentines High School entrance to the park).
Yom Kippur (the day of Atonement) is the holiest day of the year. We will fast from sundown on Sunday 27 September. It is a time to cleanse ourselves from our sins and ask for forgiveness. We also remember our relatives and friends who have passed away, by lighting a candle for them and reciting the special Yizkor memorial prayer. This solemn festival finishes after nightfall on Monday 28 September when the Shofar is blown.
Sukkot is a seven day festival that starts on Friday 2 October and commemorates God’s protection of our ancestors after our exodus from Egypt. Sukkot means ‘huts’ and we build temporary structures in our gardens, called a Succah. It should have solid walls, a roof of leaves or vegetation and we eat our meals there. It signifies the shelters built when wandering the desert after the exodus.
On each day of Sukkot we take a lulav (date palm branch – symbolises the academic scholar), haddassim (myrtle branches – symbolises the active person), Aravot (willow branches – symbolises the simple person) and Etrog (a citron similar but bigger than a lemon – symbolises the person who studies the Torah). These four are bound into a bouquet (his symbolises unity and diversity) and are shaken in each direction (North, South, East and West) to represent God’s presence everywhere.
At the conclusion of Sukkot, we celebrate Simchat Torah, which begins on the evening of 10 October. Simchat Torah means ‘rejoicing of the Torah’ and celebrates ending the cycle of reading the Torah and starting from the beginning again. There’s a lot of singing, dancing, rejoicing and of course plenty of delicious food and cake.
L’Shana Tova. Wishing you a very happy, healthy and safe New Year.
Post Author: Nina Simon