Rosh Hashanah is the celebration of the Jewish New Year. Literally, it means the head of the year. The celebration began Wednesday evening at sundown and lasts until Friday.
The holiday celebrates the anniversary of Adam and Eve who symbolize the birthday of mankind and highlight the relationship between God and humanity.
Despite how it sounds, the New Year isn't actually the first month in the Hebrew calendar. Rather, it's the first two days in the seventh month, known as Tishrei.
Rosh Hashanah occurs 10 days before Yom Kippur (celebrated on Oct. 7 in 2011). Between the two holidays, many Jews use to time to apologize for any wrongdoings and to seek forgiveness. It's known as a time of reflection and the 10 days of penitence - or aseret yamei teshuva.
The 10 days before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, enable a person to not be left out of the Book of Life, where the names of those destined for Heaven are kept.
To get your name written by God in the metaphorical book of life for another year, you must repent (teshuva), pray (tefilah), or do charity work (tzedakah).
This is one of the biggest holidays on the Jewish calendar. Even those who aren't regulars at the local synagogue will attend services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah services are an opportunity for spiritual renewal and introspection. They're also a way to reunite with friends and enjoy time with the family.
Take a look at the parking lot at your local synagogue and it's sure to be full this week.
Some school districts across the U.S. began placing teacher workdays on the Jewish holiday during the 2009-2010 school year so that Jewish kids could be at home with their families.
Feel free to greet your Jewish friends and neighbors with Happy New Year. Try using the Hebrew expression, Shana Tova, which is a wish for a good new year.
Observations also include blessing one another with the words Leshanah tovah tikateiv veteichateim. In Hebrew, this means May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.
Pope Benedict sent a telegram to the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni, for the holiday.
Here's the translation in English:
On these feast days of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot, it is my pleasure to express the most cordial and sincere greetings to you, Doctor Riccardo Di Segni, and to the entire Jewish community of Rome, with the hope that these feast days will bring many blessings from the Eternal One and be a source of infinite grace. May we all feel an increasing desire to promote justice and peace in a world that has such need of authentic witnesses of the truth. May God, in his goodness, protect the Jewish community and allow us to deepen the friendship between us, both in Rome and throughout the world.
The most common image of Rosh Hashanah is the ram's horn that's blown in the synagogue. Called the Shofar, it's considered an important symbol of the holiday and is blown 100 times as a wake-up call for the Jewish community to repent. The horn is also used in times of community distress, so that God may hear.
Food is a big part of the celebration of Rosh Hashanah. Families gather around the table for large celebratory meals. Challah (egg bread, to symbolized continuity) and apples (dipped in honey to represent a blessing for a sweet new year) are commonly used to celebrate. Matzah ball soup, gefilte fish, and brisket are also popular recipes brought out for the holiday (especially in families with Eastern European lineage).
Happy New Year, or Shana Tova!