Rosh Hashanah marks the holiday of the Jewish New Year. The celebration on Monday and Tuesday ushers in the year 5780, according to the Jewish calendar, and is the beginning of the High Holy Days. Rosh Hashanah officially began this year at sundown on Sunday, Sept. 29 and ended at sundown on Tuesday, Oct. 1.
The day itself is characterized by a number of religious services and traditions unique to the Jewish High Holidays, which includes Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the ten days in between. One of the most well-known of these traditions is the blowing of the shofar. During the high holidays, it is customary for a ram’s horn, or shofar, to be blown a total of one hundred times during the morning service, and at several other points throughout the day, which varies in experience from person to person depending on their individual levels of religious observance. Among the reasons behind the use of the shofar is in recreating the grandeur of welcoming a king to coronation, as well as to signify a sense of repentance.
Another long-celebrated tradition is the Taschlich ceremony, which derives itself from the verse “And You shall cast their sins into the depths of the sea.” During this practice, people gather by a body of water, and after saying a few prayers, throw pieces of bread into the water in order to symbolically cleanse themselves of the sins of the past year, and start off the year with a clean slate.
In addition, there is a known tradition of a candle-lighting ceremony in the evenings, as well as the eating of customary foods. These include apples dipped in honey, which fittingly signifies the blessing of a sweet New Year, parts of the heads of certain animals to symbolize the “head” of the year being on the birthday of the universe and carrot-and-pomegranate-based dishes to show the desire for a year filled with abundance and surplus.
Sticking with the topic of food, there is also a long-standing precedent, with roots in Ashkenazi Jewish literature, that explains that eating nuts is discouraged on Rosh Hashanah due to the fact that eating too many of them is known to impact the enunciation of certain words.
Since there is an amount of prayer that spans a number of hours during the High Holidays’ season, it is important for those taking part in the rituals to be able to speak clearly and consistently over this extended period of time.
Here at Muhlenberg, there are a number of ways to get involved in all that Rosh Hashanah has to offer, even if Judaism doesn’t align with one’s beliefs. Ari Perten, Campus Rabbi and Associate College Chaplain, gave many insights into ways that students can learn and explore all of the blessings of this holy day. Perten focused mainly on the inclusivity of Hillel, and the inviting nature of the services.
“Rosh Hashanah is a day where we celebrate Creation and is a time for new beginnings,” says Rabbi Perten. “I think that is something that everyone should be able to share in, no matter what their religious affiliation.”
Perten went on to explain more about how Hillel works to benefit the student body, and how the notion of inclusivity governs the approach he wants to take in allowing the Jewish culture to inspire the campus as a whole.
“I don’t want anyone to feel like Hillel isn’t somewhere that they can go. I feel that what we do is build and foster a community, and it should be a place where people come to reflect, share experiences and hopefully discover more about themselves on a spiritual level,” he said.
Since Muhlenberg is an ever-changing campus with a wide array of vibrant and colorful values and beliefs, there are an increasing number of students, faculty, staff and administration members working hard in an effort to enrich the integration and understanding of as many traditions, lifestyles and perspectives as possible.
“This is a very special campus,” said an anonymous student involved in weekly Shabbat services and dinners at Hillel, “Muhlenberg is a place ahead of its time, and the students here are so dedicated to making sure it stays that way. There really is no other school that I can think of where I would feel so comfortable just expressing myself.”
All in all, the holiday seems to be a binding force both at Muhlenberg College, and a time for new beginnings is exactly what the whole notion of college suggests: a time to rightfully forget the woes of the past and look ahead to a bright future and to set brand new goals. Perten finished the interview by saying, “Hillel extends long after the High Holidays. We have services and dinners every week, and I hope to see as many new faces there as possible.”