Rosh Hashanah, also known as the Jewish New Year, kicks off of the high holiday season. Rosh Hashanah ushers in Aseret Yemei Teshuvah, the Ten Days of Repentance, where Jews are asked to think about everything that transpired in the past year, think ahead to the year to come and repent/ask forgiveness for their wrongdoings and transgressions.
On the one hand, it is a serious holiday filled with serious self-reflection – a mood which is mirrored in the tashlich ceremony and the blowing of the shofar (rams horn trumpet) during synagogue.
But Rosh Hashanah is also a joyful time, an opportunity for family and friends to rejoice together in the spirt of new beginnings. Regardless of one’s personal Jewish observance the rest of the year, most Jews celebrate Rosh Hashanah and its partner holiday, Yom Kippur, in some way. Synagogue attendance usually skyrockets, and across the country, people share festive meals with family featuring special foods like apples and honey (to symbolize the sweet year ahead) and round challah (to evoke the roundness of the year.) Some families even hold Rosh Hashanah seders, which bring the food symbolism to the next level.
Not surprisingly, Rosh Hashanah also offers deep ties to service. The main spiritual thrust of the holiday is to do tshuvah, which essentially translates to returning to one’s “best self.” Being one’s best self can mean any number of things – being a better partner in one’s relationships, being a more productive worker, being kinder to and less critical of oneself… But returning to one’s best self certainly also means finding ways to be an active positive force within one’s community. So while the two days of Rosh Hashanah may be best spent on internal reflection – at synagogue or elsewhere – the days surrounding the holiday provide us with the opportunity to put our “best selves” forward, through being kind and considerate and by participating in service projects that will help to shape our world for the better in the year to come.