Rosh Hashanah 2.0

Bread upon the water

By JONATHAN CHARLES FOX
Posted 9/8/21

Yep- It’s that time of year again, when I think I’m going to teach you all about a Jewish holiday and then realize I know almost nothing myself. Story of my life. I claim to know a little …

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Rosh Hashanah 2.0

Bread upon the water

Posted

Yep- It’s that time of year again, when I think I’m going to teach you all about a Jewish holiday and then realize I know almost nothing myself. Story of my life. I claim to know a little bit about a lot of things but as Barbara Fox was fond of saying, “Most of it is wrong.”

First up: Spelling. I never know how to spell it, so I looked it up online, which didn’t really help. I found one site (www.pennlive.com) which addressed the issue with this: “There are several schools of thought about translating the Hebrew into English. We follow the Associated Press (AP) style guide,” it continued “which spells the holiday without a terminal ‘h’ - but some spell it “Ha-shanah.”

Do they? I’ve never even seen that one, so I called publisher Laurie Stuart for clarification. I always thought that we at the award-winning River Reporter followed in the classic style of the New York Times, but am mistaken once again. “Nope,” Laurie said. “We follow AP style as well, and they use the “H” at the end.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “The website I just checked said the opposite.”

 “Oh wait,” Laurie responded, clicking away on her keyboard. “According to an article in the Atlantic, the AP also “dropped the pesky final H” a few years ago, so there you have it.” You think you’re confused? Oy.

Moving on: What is it? More internet jibber-jabber informed me that “Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year [I knew that!] and literally means ‘first of the year.’ The festival [it’s a festival?] is celebrated during the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar, which falls during September or October.” Hmmm. “The holiday commemorates the creation of the world and marks the beginning of the Days of Awe, [not “awww”]—a 10-day period (September 7 to September 16) of introspection and repentance that culminates in the Yom Kippur holiday, also known as the Day of Atonement.” For added confusion (you’re welcome!) the exact date of Rosh Hashanah varies every year, since it is based on the Hebrew Calendar. (www.history.com)

Repentance? Sounds a little judgy to me. “According to tradition, God judges all creatures during the 10 Days of Awe, deciding whether they will live or die in the coming year.” Oy. I’m pretty sure Dharma’s in the clear, but I could be in trouble.

The dot com elucidated: “Jewish law teaches that God inscribes the names of the righteous in the ‘book of life’ and condemns the wicked to death on Rosh Hashanah; people who fall between the two categories have until Yom Kippur to perform ‘teshuvah,’ [I can’t pronounce it either] or repentance.”

 “So I still have a little time, girl,” I rasped at the dog, trying to not panic.  “I don’t think ‘righteous indignation’ counts.”

“As a result,” the website continued, “observant Jews consider Rosh Hashanah and the days surrounding it a time for prayer, good deeds, reflecting on past mistakes and making amends with others.”

“Uh oh,” I said to Dharma. “Making amends. That sounds like a lot of work.” As if she understood, my dog cocked her head in the direction of the online article still flickering on the screen in front of me.

How hard should I work at it? “Rosh Hashanah is meant to be a day of rest,” were the next words I read to the pooch, “not labor. The Torah expressly forbids one to do any work on Rosh Hashanah, as well as other major Jewish holy days.” Breathing a sigh of relief, I wondered aloud about food, and once again, the dog cocked her head, recognizing that word. “Sorry, girl, I don’t think you’ll be interested.”

We’re Jewish, there’s always food.   Sweet foods are popular during Rosh Hashana, particularly apples dipped in honey, in the hopes of ushering in a sweet year. Challah bread is also a frequent fixture of Rosh Hashana celebrations, as “the circular shape of the loaf symbolizes the circle of life.” Who knew?

Where does the water come in? I remember being a kid at Temple Concord in Binghamton, NY, and trudging down to the banks of the Susquehanna River with bread in my pockets, but not the reason why. Tashlikh (say that three times fast), which means “cast away” as the great and powerful search engine informed me, “is a ritual performed on Rosh Hashanah as a physical reminder of the human effort to cast away one’s sins. By tossing bits of bread into the water and reciting the verse, ‘Cast all our sins into the ocean’s depths,’ we state our intention to return to our true selves.”

Should I say. “Happy New Year,” or? The common Hebrew greeting on Rosh Hashanah is Shanah Tovah (sound it out, people) which translated means “[have a] good year.” Well, duh.

Next up: Chanukah. Or is it Hanukkah? Oh good lord. It’s always something. In my humble opinion.  

Fun Fact: AP doesn’t use italics in news stories. That includes newspaper names and magazine references. No italics. Darn. I do love italics.

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