Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, begins tomorrow night (Monday night), and lasts for 2 days, until sundown on Wednesday 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 5782.
I can’t help looking back at last year’s post with some degree of irony. We were so full of hope that by this year we would be back to normal. Well… not quite. We were almost there earlier this summer, and then the Delta variant of coronavirus entered Israel, and here we are again, with peak numbers of infected people (around 10-11,000 new cases per day). BUT – there is one huge difference this year. We are now benefiting from the massive vaccination campaign of last winter, and now the booster vaccinations, which means that despite the huge numbers of infected people, the number of hospitalized and seriously ill people is much lower than it was when we had similar numbers of infected patients in the winter.
Nevertheless, caution is the name of the game, so although we are not imposed with a closure like last year, our synagogue services are going to be somewhat curtailed, windows will be left open, and entry inside the synagogue contingent upon having a green pass or a negative PCR test.
Similar to last year, many Israelis are in “bidud” – quarantine – after having been exposed to the virus and cannot take part properly in the Rosh Hashana prayers, so Shofar-blowers will be walking through the various neighborhoods to blow the Shofar for anyone who needs to hear it.
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.
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.
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.
It has become a tradition that the Israeli Bureau of Statistics issues its annual population update at Rosh Hashanah. This year the number of Jews worldwide has risen to 15.2 million, of whom almost half live in Israel:
Days before the new Hebrew calendar year of 5782, the number of Jews worldwide stands at approximately 15.2 million, compared to 15.1 million in 5781, according to statistics newly released by The Jewish Agency for Israel.
Among the global Jewish population, the number of Jews in Israel is close to 6.9 million (compared to 6.8 million in 5781), while about 8.3 million live outside Israel, including around six million in the United States.
The updated estimates by Professor Sergio Della Pergola of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem will be published in the American Jewish Year Book 2021.
According to The Jewish Agency, the above numbers include those who define themselves as Jews and who do not identify with another religion. When also including those who are eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return, the world total rises to 25.3 million people, of which 7.3 million are in Israel and 18 million living outside Israel.
In other Rosh Hashanah-related news – I’m speaking of honey – Israel is leading the world in reviving bee colonies:
In a world where scientists acknowledge the important role bees play in our ecosystem yet worry about their dwindling numbers, farmers in Israel’s Arava Desert are working to grow bee colonies – and they are already achieving some very “sweet” results.
You would not expect to find a bee colony in the middle of a desert, yet the bees at Porat Farm in Ein Yahav, an area supported by Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF-USA), are not only surviving, they’re thriving.
Despite its arid moonscape-like environment, the Arava region in Israel’s Negev Desert provides the ideal conditions for growing bee colonies. With limited pollution, the air remains pure, which in turn helps prevent many of the diseases that are decimating bee colonies around the world.
And the conditions that help bees thrive in the arid environment are benefiting local farmers as well.
In addition to the variety of delicious honeys that comes from bees, local farmers in the Arava and JNF-USA supported agricultural scientists rely on bees to pollinate their crops. In fact, farmers will rent beehives from beekeepers like Porat and place them in their fields, resulting in more profit for their businesses and better quality fruits and vegetables for Israelis and consumers around the world.
According to Noa Zer, JNF-USA Liaison in the Arava and owner of a two-acre pepper farm, “Without the bees we wouldn’t be able to grow what we grow. There would be no source of income. The bees are the best helpers.”
There are two types of bees that are being used to help boost local agriculture: the honeybee and the bumblebee. As Dr. Oded Kanan from JNF-USA’s R&D center in the Arava explained, honeybees are more commonly used in open greenhouses, whereas the bumblebee is used in closed greenhouses.
While the bumblebee does not produce honey, they are still essential for pollination. Bumblebees move their wings hundreds of times per second, and the vibrations from it allows them to pollinate a flower before they move along to the next plant. This process is called “buzz pollination.”
This new approach is a major upgrade from previous pollination techniques in the region, when farmers would have to go by themselves, flower by flower, with a special device to pollinate them. Today, thanks to the helpful cooperation of bees and innovative researchers, farmers were able to increase their yield by 60 percent. And today, farms in the Arava are responsible for producing more than half of all of Israel’s produce.
As Dr. Kanan points out, “Without bees there is no world, and this is something scientists everywhere are working on.” Communities in other countries, like Nepal, are catching on and adopting the methods that they saw being used in Israel. It modernizes the way food is being grown, helps with economic security, and ultimately has a ripple effect throughout society. It’s what farmers like Zer call, “the bee effect.” By helping Israel’s desert bloom, these little bees, with the help of local farmers and JNF-USA, are making a big impact. And that’s something that is pretty sweet and worth celebrating this year!
This really is something sweet to celebrate!
May Hashem hear our prayers wherever they are held, whether in grandiose synagogues, temporary prayer halls or in outdoor spaces. May He grant us all good health and an end to this terrible plague.
If I have offended anyone during this past year I ask forgiveness of them and sincerely apologize.
May Hashem grant us good health, peace, joy and prosperity, and may He inscribe us all 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
May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a happy new year.