So, I just got back to campus last night after being away since Friday. Why, you may ask? I was in Connecticut celebrating Rosh Hashanah! This holiday, which literally translates to “Head of the Year,” is more commonly known as the Jewish New Year. It commemorates the start of a new calendar, which is marked by two days of prayer, introspection, and lots—and I mean lots—of good, home-cooked food.
You may be asking yourself, “Justin, that’s all great, but it’s only September; how could there be a Jewish New Year now?” And that’s a good question. Pat yourself on the back for that one. January 1 marks the start of the new solar calendar, while the Jewish New Year marks the start of the lunar new year.
This is also why the holidays fall on different dates on the normal calendar every year; last year, Rosh Hashanah took place September 24–26, and September 13–15 this year. Another interesting difference with Jewish holidays is that they begin the night before and end upon nightfall on the day of. So, although Monday, September 14, was the first day of the holiday, it actually began on the night of Sunday, September 13.
Rosh Hashanah also marks the start of a string of five holidays that occur within a month. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, takes place ten days after the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah take place shortly afterwards.
Yom Kippur, which will take place a week from today, is a day of repentance where we hope to come to terms with any and all mistakes we’ve made over the past year. It’s customary, and probably a good idea anyway, to apologize to anyone you may have wronged in the past year, in hopes of earning their forgiveness. Additionally, this holiday contains a 25-hour fast, which begins the night before the holiday starts at sunset, and ends the next evening an hour after sunset.
Sukkot, which means the Festival of Booths, serves to commemorate the time spent wandering the desert, where the Jewish people lived in temporary structures, known as sukkot. It is customary to build a sukkah, made out of three wooden walls and a roof of tree leaves, and live in it for seven days, but I’m not sure how Residence Life or Public Safety would feel about that on RPI’s campus. There are many variations on this custom: some just eat meals in the sukkah, some only fulfill the other customs of the holiday, and some do nothing at all. It’s all up to what people are comfortable with.
Finally, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, which are two holidays at the end of Sukkot. Shemini Atzeret, which means the Eighth Day of Assembly, is the first day after the end of Sukkot, and Simchat Torah celebrates the finishing of the reading of the Torah and celebrates the starting over immediately after!
I hope all the above-mentioned gives some insight into the crazy and exciting Jewish holiday schedule for the next few weeks! On that note, I want to wish my Jewish friends and family a good and sweet new year, l’shana tova u’metukah!