Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, begins tonight, and lasts for 2 days, until sundown on Tuesday night. The Jewish year follows the lunar calendar, and the number counts the number of years since Creation. This year we will mark the beginning of 5776.
To quote from previous Rosh Hashana posts, Rosh Hashana is not marked by great parties and merry-making for the Jewish New Year is also known as the Day of Judgement, the day when all humans are held accountable before Heaven for their good deeds and bad, and their fate for the coming year is decided. A good part of the two days of the festival is spent in emotional and uplifting prayers in the synagogue where we acclaim G-d as the King of Israel and as King of the whole universe, and where we ask Him to write us in the Book of Life, which remains open until Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) in 10 days time, giving us time to repent and atone for our sins.
The holiday is marked with the blowing of the Shofar (the ram’s horn), which is meant to literally sound an alarm to wake us up from our bad ways and return us to the righteous path. We also eat sweet foods to symbolise our wish for a sweet New Year. A classic staple at the Rosh Hashana table is the apple, which is round, symbolising the cycle of the year, dipped in honey for a sweet new year.
On the second night of Rosh Hashana it is traditional to eat a fruit from the new season. The most popular fruit is the pomegranate, because of the beauty of its shape, because it is one of the 7 species of produce native to the Land of Israel, and because it is traditionally believed that it has 613 seeds, the same as the number of mitzvot (commandments) that a Jew is commanded to keep.
It is also traditional in many households to eat all different kinds of foods whose names, in a kind of wordplay, remind us of good things that we wish for ourselves. So for example we eat carrots in various forms – tzimmes is a very popular dish amongst Ashkenazim – because the Hebrew name גזר (gezer) is the same root as גזרה (gezera) meaning decree. So we wish for “good decrees” for the coming year.
Other foods are the head of a fish so that we should be at “the head and not the tail”; and beetroot whose Hebrew name is סלק, (selek) similar to לסלק (lesalek) – to get rid of – so we wish to be rid of our enemies.
On the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashana (or the second if the first is Shabbat) we walk to a body of flowing water, a river, brook or the sea, or we try to get to a vantage point where we can see some flowing water, and say the prayer of Tashlich in which we symbolically cast our sins into the water.
You can learn more about Rosh Hashana and its traditions here.
Every Rosh Hashana, the Israeli Bureau of Statistics issues the latest population figures, and this year, as in every previous year, we are delighted to learn that our population has grown, now hitting 8.4 million:
On the eve of the Jewish New Year 5776, Israel’s population numbers at 8,412,000 people, according to data released by the Central Bureau of Statistics on Tuesday.
Since last year, Israel’s population has increased in about 158,000 people – a 1.9 percent increase, similar to previous years.
The Jewish population numbers at about 6.3 million people (74.9 percent), the Arab population numbers at about 1,746,000 (20.7 percent), and there are about 366,000 (4.4 percent) people who are non-Arab Christians and people who have no religion listed in the civil registry.
During 5775, about 168,000 babies were born in Israel, and about 42,000 people died. About 32,000 immigrated to Israel, 28,000 of which are new olim. This is a 35 percent increase from the previous year.
The JTA puts those aliya figures at 29,500, a 13% increase over last year:
Most of this year’s immigrants came from the former Soviet Union – with some 14,100, and Europe – with more than 9,000. Some 3,600 immigrants came to Israel from North America and 1,200 came from South America, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption announced Wednesday.
The two largest sources of aliyah were France, with 7,350 immigrants compared to 6,700 the previous year (a 10 percent increase), and Ukraine, with 6,900 immigrants compared to 4,600 the previous year (a 50 percent increase). There also was a 23 percent increase in aliyah from Russia to 5,900 immigrants.
“These figures, which show a significant increase in the number of immigrants to Israel, reinforce the overall picture that the year 2015 will represent a year of record aliyah for more than a decade,” said Minister of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption Ze’ev Elkin. “This is a window of opportunity that the State of Israel cannot miss.”
It’s true that many olim arrived in Israel due to the worsening situation in their old countries, especially Ukraine and France, but we must be grateful that the State of Israel exists as a refuge for these Jews in distress, whether because of antisemitism or civil war. Of course it is also wonderful to note the rapidly growing aliya from comfortable Western countries like the US and Britain. That is the essence of Zionism! May these numbers continue to climb in the coming year.
This past year has seen huge turmoil and upheaval in our region, from the wars in Syria and Iraq to the rise of ISIS to the massive flood of refugees into Europe. Facing us in the year to come is the spectre of an invigorated and rehabilitated Iran spreading its hegemony across the Middle East, financing terror groups worldwide and rapidly developing its nuclear capability. Any one of these issues represents an existential threat to Israel, although the Iran issue is probably the greatest because it entwines within it our relations with America and Europe.
We shall have to pray with added fervour this year to Hashem that He grant us a year of tranquillity and peace, and that He grant our leaders and the leaders of the free world the wisdom and the courage to act wisely and for the good of all of us.
If I have offended anyone during this past year I ask forgiveness of them and sincerely apologize.
May I wish all my family, friends, and readers worldwide שנה טובה ומתוקה – Shana Tova Umetuka. A Happy and Sweet New Year. May we all be blessed with a year of good health, joy, prosperity and peace. May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life.
תכלה שנה וקללותיה, תחל שנה וברכותיה
Let the current year and its curses be over, let the new year and its blessings begin.
לשנה טובה תכתבו ותחתמו