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High Holy Days
Every fall, Jews around the world observe a ten-day period of prayer and repentance. These ten days are called the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe. They include the “High Holy Days”, Rosh Ha Shanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).
Rosh Ha’ Shanah (Jewish New Year)
Timing: Rosh Hashanah is celebrated each year, usually in the month of September. Literally meaning “Head of the Year”, Rosh Hashanah is observed by Orthodox Jews for two days, whereas Reform Jews observe for only one day.
Historical Significance: According to Jewish tradition, during the High Holidays, God decides our fates for the coming year. Because Jews believe that God is compassionate and just and that He will accept our prayers for forgiveness, during this period, we reflect upon our lives and repent for any wrongdoings committed over the course of the previous year. This process of repentance is called teshuvah (returning) and in this way, the holiday of Rosh Ha’ Shanah is all about making peace in the community and striving to be a better person.
S'lichot is a Hebrew word meaning "forgiveness". The term refers to the special penitential prayers that Jews recite throughout the High Holidays, beginning late at night on the Saturday before Rosh Ha'Shanah and continuing each morning on the days between Rosh Ha'Shanah and Yom Kippur.
The central feature of Rosh Ha’Shanah synagogue services is the blowing of the shofar, a musical instrument made from a ram's horn. The shofar was sounded on many significant occasions in Biblical times and today, the sound of the shofar marks the beginning of the Yamim Noraim on Rosh Ha’Shanah and their conclusion on Yom Kippur.
At Rosh Ha’Shanah it is customary to wish others a Shanah Tovah, a good year. Some people also say "l'shana tovah tikatevu”, which means "May you be inscribed for a good year”. It is also customary to enjoy a festival meal including apples dipped in honey, symbolizing our hopes for a sweet new year, and round loaves of challah (cake-like bread), symbolizing the cycle of the year.
Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)
Timing: This Holy day occurs in September or October each year.
Historical Significance: Yom Kippur is the most solemn day in the Jewish calendar, as Jews reflect on the past year and ask for God's forgiveness for any sins they may have committed during the previous year.
Observance: Kol Nidrei is the name of the prayer service that is chanted during the Yom Kippur evening service. It is customary for those past bar or bat mitzvah age to fast from sunset on Yom Kippur Eve to one hour after sunset on Yom Kippur day as a symbol of the fact that Yom Kippur should be a day of reflection, rather than a day of personal comfort. Most of Yom Kippur day is spent in continuous prayer in the Synagogue and the end of the holiday is marked by the sound of the shofar. Those who are fasting generally resume eating after sundown on Yom Kippur day with a light meal called the “breaking of the fast”.