Happy New Year! Rosh Hashanah is a Jewish holiday observed on the first and second days of the month of Tishrei on the Jewish calendar.
This year, in 2011, Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown on Wednesday, September 28 and will be celebrated on Thursday, September 29 and Friday, September 30.
On the Jewish calendar, these days mark the new year 5772. Rosh Hashanah means “head of the year” or “first of the year.”
While nonreligious December 31 New Year’s celebrations are often marked by energetic parties, Rosh Hashanah is celebrated quite differently. That's because it’s considered one of the holiest days of the Jewish year.
The celebration of Rosh Hashanah features many layers. The Torah (the holy book of Judaism) refers to Rosh Hashanah as both Yom Ha-Zikkaron ("the day of remembrance") and Yom Teruah ("a day of shofar blowing").
A hundred notes are played in a special rhythm at the beginning of Rosh Hashanah. The sounding of the shofar begins a 10-day period (commonly called the "High Holy Days") that ends with the festival of Yom Kippur.
Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of the world. It is also a holy day of judgment when Jews reflect on their actions over the course of the past year and make plans for changes to be made in the coming new year.
To the extent that these changes are resolutions, Rosh Hashanah does have at least one thing in common with nonreligious New Year’s celebrations.
Over the years, many traditions have developed around Rosh Hashanah. One of these is to feature sweet foods as a symbol of the hope for a sweet new year to come. Many children — and adults! — look forward to sliced apples dipped in honey on Rosh Hashanah.
Challah bread is also dipped in honey at meals. Instead of its usual braided shape, though, the challah bread at Rosh Hashanah is baked in the shape of a circle to symbolize the hope that the new year will roll smoothly without unhappiness or sorrow.
Another tradition many Jews observe during Rosh Hashanah is eating pomegranates. Many people believe the legend that pomegranates have 613 seeds, one for each of the commandments Jews are obliged to keep according to the Torah.