- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Confused about the meaning of Rosh Hashanah, or wondering about its meaning within the Jewish faith? Take a page from Disney and just “let it go.”

Another name for the Jewish new year (which now is 5775), Rosh Hashanah began Wednesday night, calling on followers to reflect on their past actions and renew their dedication to their faith.

Unlike the traditional celebratory approach to a new year, Rosh Hashanah is a holiday that’s both celebratory and serious, said Avi West, senior education officer for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.

“The whole season is one of introspection,” Mr. West said. “The issues are repentance, looking inside oneself, turning one’s life around, asking for forgiveness. This is the season … to let it go. Not in a modern ego-driven way, you have to let it go in a way that you take responsibility for things.”

Rabbi Shira Stutman, director of Jewish programming at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, said the holiday is one of the most important on the Jewish calendar.

“It celebrates the beginning of the new year, it’s an opportunity for us to reflect on the year that has past and … try to figure out what we can do differently in the new year,” she said.

Judaism’s deep roots mean that over the many years, different ways of worship have been found to accommodate people looking to connect with God, Ms. Stutman said, though that means Rosh Hashanah services have grown increasingly long, sometimes up to five hours.

“Some people do it through [speech] so there’s 45 minutes of reading the bible,” she said. “There’s 45 minutes of singing, 45 minutes of movement, which always includes standing and sitting, bowing and kneeling, and walking backward.”

Other parts of the liturgy include public penitential prayer, or public confessionals, Mr. West said.

While they can seem awkward, they are also empowering, he said.

“If I see my parents feeling sorry for things they didn’t do, then who am I to say I’m perfect,” he said. “That’s an important cross-generational message. As long as we’re in this understanding of trying to do what’s right. We have a sort of divine do-over mandate from God. Therefore when we pray and admit, beseech both each other and to God, to be granted penance, atonement, we start with a fresh slate.”

The holiday and some of its traditions date back to the biblical age, Ms. Stutman said, notably the shofar, a musical instrument made from a ram’s horn that is blown “as a way of waking us up.”

The horn’s significance draws from the Book of Genesis, when Abraham almost sacrifices his son Isaac to show his dedication to God, but instead sacrifices a ram.

“It’s quite awesome,” Ms. Stutman said. “In the traditional sense for many people when you hear the shofar sounded, you’re not only in the present but also in the past. For thousands of years this is what Jews have been doing. Judaism, because it’s so old, it’s developed all sorts of ways for people to pray. It’s not just about looking at a prayer book, it’s about using all our senses. The shofar is one way that we try to engage congregants and awaken us to all the possibilities of the future.”

Other items commonly associated with Rosh Hashanah are apples and honey. Apples represent a new crop, or year, while honey is for sweetness.

“The tartness of the apple, mixed with the sweetness of the honey reminds us of the reality of life,” Mr. West said. “You pray for a good year, good health, everything you need to do well in the coming year.”

Rosh Hashanah lasts through Friday evening, and Yom Kippur, or the “Day of Atonement,” begins Oct. 3.

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