The high holidays are nearly here! In just a few days (starting the evening of September 4), Rosh Hashanah – aka the Jewish New Year – kicks off of the high holiday season. A little more than a week later we come to Yom Kippur, which is considered the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.
The 10 days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, often called the “days of awe,” are a joyful time filled with family and celebration. They are also a very solemn and important time when Jewish people turn inward and reflect upon their lives, relationships, and spirituality. In doing so, they aim to return to the best versions of themselves, and set good intentions for the coming year.
The high holiday season also offers an amazing opportunity to make a commitment to service and helping others. So in honor of the 10 Days of Awe, Repair the World is bringing you 10 ways to serve during – and after – the high holiday season. To amp up the high holiday spirit even further, each service opportunity is linked to a symbol of either Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur.
Learn more about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur’s significance, traditions, and connections to service, and have a shana tova / happy new year!
Tradition: There is a custom of eating apples on Rosh Hashanah. Their sweetness and round shape represent our hopes for a sweet and full New Year.
How to serve: Help the farmers who grow those apples – and all the produce we eat! Shop at the farmer’s market, find where to get local food near you via Local Harvest, and check out our partner organizations, Jewish Farm School, Adamah, and Urban Adamah.
Tradition: Those delicious apples get dipped in honey, which represents even more sweetness.
How to serve: Support the pollinators! Sponsor a honeybee hive through The Honeybee Conservancy.
Tradition: The shofar, a sacred instrument made out of a ram’s horn, is blown throughout the high holidays to punctuate the services, focus our thoughts and prayers, and call people to justice and action.
How to serve: Volunteer for campaigns and organizations that work to “sound a call for justice” in their own way – check out the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, Bend the Arc, and Jews United for Justice.
Tradition: Throughout Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we read from a special prayer book called the machzor.
How to serve: Books and reading are important for everyone! Volunteer at your local Reach Out and Read chapter to support early childhood literacy.
Tradition: Many people attend spiritual prayer services during the high holidays – it’s kind of like Superbowl Sunday for synagogues!
How to serve: If you belong to or attend a synagogue, check out their event calendar online. Chances are, there are lots of ways to plug in and help out. And read this awesome story in Tablet about how a bar mitzvah boy focused his mitzvah project on saving a synagogue in Selma, Alabama.
Tradition: Some communities have a custom of eating pomegranates on the second night of Rosh Hashanah. The bountiful seeds inside represent our wishes for abundant joy in the coming year. Some people also say that a pomegranate has 613 seeds, which represent the 613 commandments in the Torah.
How to serve: Think about ways that you could bring “abundant joy” to someone you love. Do one of them during the Days of Awe, and watch their face light up.
Tradition: On Rosh Hashanah, there is a custom of symbolically casting off one’s sins, by throwing bits of bread into a natural body of water.
How to serve: Help to ensure that all people have access to clean water. Support the work of organizations like Charity Water and take action by writing a letter to Congress in support of the Water for the World Act.
Tradition: There is a tradition of fasting on Yom Kippur as a way of putting aside bodily needs for the day and focusing instead on reflection and prayer.
How to serve: Make a commitment to ensure that people have access to the food they need to survive. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, contribute to the work at the Food Bank for New York City, or a local food bank near you, or make a donation to Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger.
Tradition: On Yom Kippur we ask forgiveness of others and of God for any wrong doings from the previous year. We also are asked to forgive – an act that can be even more difficult!
How to serve: Write a list of people in your life you would like to ask forgiveness from. Call them, email them, or meet them in person and tell them how you feel. You might be surprised by how good you feel after.
Tradition: Both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur offer opportunities for people to gather together and spend time with family and friends.
How to serve: Support families by supporting women and children in developing countries. Check out the Half the Sky Movement to find out how you can make a difference.