Shana Tova Umetuka – 5777

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Shana Tova

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 5777.

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. Aish has a thought-provoking article on Silence and the Shofar:

It is easier to get lost in the “noise in our lives” than to quietly look within ourselves.

But during these remarkable days, we are encouraged to ask ourselves who are we without the noise and trappings of this life. Who are we without the computer, money, relationships? Who are without the success, without the anxiety?

In moments of self-examination, we are being asked to be focused, quiet, and fully present.

In between the cacophony and business that pervades our world, a shofar will blow.

Imagine sitting with your friends and suddenly you hear a piercing siren. You are in a deep sleep and the baby begins to shriek. You will no doubt be woken up. Your attention will be diverted to where the sound is coming from. You will be forced to focus.

The shofar creates a focused moment when you cannot help but listen and be present. The shofar speaks to the Jewish soul in ways other disciplines cannot.

The shofar is our ancient meditation, encouraging us to withdraw from the noise of life and go in. It prods us to get intimate with ourselves and ponder our state of existence. It requests of us to be still, quiet, and open to the blessed unfolding of the New Year.

Here’s a short clip to give you an idea of what the Shofar sounds like. In the synagogue it will be sounded altogether 100 times in two sets of 30 and 4 sets of 10.

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.

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Even our Challahs are baked in a round shape to symbolise the circle of life and the circle of the year. They are often extra-sweet and have raisins inside for added sweetness.

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.

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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 8.58 million. What’s more, the birthrate is 4 times the death rate:

On the eve of the Jewish new year, the State of Israel has a population of 8.585 million, 172,000 more than the same time last year.

Israel's rising birth rate

Israel’s rising birth rate

srael experienced a population growth rate of almost 2 percent over the past Jewish year, consistent with previous years, according to data published by the Central Bureau of Statistics on Tuesday.

Jews make up close to three-quarters of the population at 6.4 million residents, while Israel’s almost 1.8 million Arabs make up one-fifth of the population. Those of other backgrounds, including non-Arab Christians and those not categorized as members of a religious group by the Population, Immigration and Border Authority, make up less than 5% of the population, at 380,000 people.

The country’s birthrate was more than four times that of the death rate, with 189,000 babies being born during the past Jewish year and 46,000 people dying.

In the past year 30,000 people came to live in Israel, of whom 25,000 were new immigrants.

Those numbers are fantastic and bring a lift to the heart. It’s difficult to imagine how precarious our situation was a mere 60-70 years ago. We have so much to be thankful to Hashem for.

And yet with the turmoil all round us in the Middle East we shall have to pray with special fervour 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

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5 Responses to Shana Tova Umetuka – 5777

  1. Pingback: Shana Tova Umetuka – 5777 – 24/6 Magazine

  2. Reality says:

    שנה טובה ומתוקה וכתיבה וחתימה טובה
    Thank you for all your wonderful blogs.May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life for a happy ,healthy and safe new year.

  3. Earl says:

    L’Shanah Tovah, annie! I hope that it’s a great year for your family.

    E.

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