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  • Kate Forest

Rosh Hashanah Explained

Most people don’t realize, but Chanukah isn’t that big a deal in Judaism. It really only became important because the Jewish kids were all, “Hey, how come we don’t have Christmas with presents and trees and cookies?” And Jewish parents were all, “Fine, here’s some socks, some cash, and fried potatoes. Go read a book or practice the piano.” (Literally, the two things Jewish kids were allowed to do in my father’s generation. With the addition of stick ball in the summer.)

The High Holidays or Days of Awe (that's awe as in awesome, not aww as in kittens) are Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah literally means the head of the year (rosh=head, shanah=year). And it’s generally the “new year.” But Judaism also has a new year for trees and a new year for starting to read the Torah. It’s like how opening day of baseball is the beginning of the baseball year, and the Tuesday after Labor Day is the beginning of the School year, but January 1st is the beginning of the calendar year. Also someone blows a big ram’s horn in the loudest most annoying sound. But we all get excited by this. This is the fun part.

I've tried to blow a shofar, couldn't make it toot. It did taste exactly as you would think a ram's horn would taste like.

Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. This is serious shit. You have to apologize to anyone you have wronged. Because you can only be forgiven for a wrong committed against a person by that person. I checked with a few rabbis and they think email atonement is okay for some minor infractions. So look for an email blast from me.

Some Jews believe that the big deity is taking names in a book. You want to get all your atoning done so your name is written in the book of life, because the other option is no bueno. Typically, Jews fast on Yom Kippur. I don’t, because when I’m hungry I do even more things I need to atone for. Better to come with my best self to grovel.

A cool thing about Yom Kippur is Kol Nidre. This is a really creepy sounding tune, but also kinda beautiful and gothic. The words are something like “forgive me for all the lies I told. I didn’t mean it.” Back in medieval Spain, Jews were forced to convert to Christianity, and so they would show up at services on YK and be all, “Listen, I had to or they were going to kill me and my family.” And the rest of the congregation was all, “We get it, no worries. We’re cool.”

I’ll be going to services this year. To reflect on how I can improve myself, to apologize for what I’ve done wrong, and to cheer on the red-faced shofar blower.

At the end, you get applies dipped in honey, that’s your reward for sitting through the service. It’s not much, but I’ll take it over socks.

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