Rosh Hashanah (literally “Head of the Year” in Hebrew) is the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashanah is the first of the High Holy Days (or Jewish High Holidays), beginning a 10-day period of soul searching and contemplation that concludes with Yom Kippur. Traditionally, this period of 10 days, the Days of Awe in Hebrew—Yamim Nora’im—are for thinking about our behavior during the previous year, asking forgiveness from those we may have wronged, and pledging to make positive changes for the coming year.
Since Judaism uses a lunar calendar, the date will change every year on the Gregorian calendar, but most often, the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah falls in September or early October.
While Rosh Hashanah is often spent at the synagogue, there are many ways to observe the Jewish New Year if you choose to spend them outside of a synagogue setting. There might be alternative offerings in your community, so make sure to do some searching (try your local Federation or JCC) or asking people in your community to see what your options are.
You can also create your own practices such as spending some time in nature, walking or hiking, taking some time to yourself to think in a calm space, volunteering somewhere meaningful or spending time at home with friends and family and talking about the coming year. Take the time to celebrate the Jewish New Year in a way that feels authentic and meaningful to you.
A new day in the Jewish calendar begins at sunset, so the traditional start of the holiday is the evening meal before the day of the holiday. Menus and customs vary from home to home, often based on family tradition and family origin. Those who are Ashkenazi, whose family origin is Eastern Europe, might make or buy a round challah with raisins: The roundness of the bread symbolizes the never-ending cycle of time and the sweetness of the raisins symbolizes the hope that the coming year will be a sweet one.
Many families will also serve apples dipped in honey symbolizing the wish for a sweet new year. Those with Sephardic origin, families who come from southern Europe, North Africa or the Middle East might serve pomegranates and bean-based dishes and might even dip challah in sugar rather than honey. (Find Rosh Hashanah recipes here.)