jewish high holidays

Creation’s Brightest Light.  A midrash teaches that the primordial light, too pure and brilliant for this world, was hidden away for the righteous in the world-to-come (Genesis Rabbah 3:6).  Yet sparks of that light shine forth in the Torah and in deeds of goodness. As the Book of Proverbs says: ‘A Mitzvah is a candle / And Torah is Light’ (6:23)
—  Mishkahn Hanefesh, Rosh Hashanah

When I was a high school freshman, I went around to all my teachers and told them I would be gone on Rosh Hashanah. I was one of only two practicing Jewish kids in my class (the total number of Jews doubled to 4 if you counted “I’m half-Jewish but I don’t really do anything but Chanukah” kids), but I got all the work I needed, arranged to get notes from classmates, and everything was cool. 

Until my mother called the main office that morning to tell them I would be out of school. 

“We don’t allow any pre-scheduled absences,” they told her. “It will have to be an unexcused absence.” 

In retrospect, I almost—almost—feel sorry for whichever unsuspecting gentile midwestern secretary picked up the phone that morning, because if I recall correctly, not only did they get hell, but that phone call was escalated to the dean’s office pretty damn quickly.

In the end, I think it was sorted, but from that day forward, whenever the Jewish High Holidays rolled around, my parents would just call the school and tell them I had a migraine. 

Let that sink in for a minute: It was more credible for me to be absent because of a headache than it was for me to have a non-Christian religious observance. 

Then again, dealing with goyim like that is enough to give anybody a headache, so I guess it wasn’t even a lie. 

shoutout to any jewish wlw spending the high holidays with their homophobic relatives

shoutout to any muslim wlw spending the new year with their homophobic relatives

shoutout to religious wlw in general who have to spend time they should be allowed to be having their own spiritual moments, instead hearing some nonsense about how they shouldn’t be allowed to be who they are

Things to know about Rosh Hashanah

First of all, SHANA TOVAH! This means “happy new year” in Hebrew and it’s pronounced “sha-na toe-va.” Say this to your jewish friends before/during Rosh Hashanah (which is pronounced “rowsh ha-sha-na”, starts sundown September 13, and lasts two days, even though most US schools only give one day off, if that). They will be super impressed with your mad Hebrew language skills and also grateful that you’re recognizing one of the most important holy days in their religion, which doesn’t really get much mainstream publicity.

some other cool things to know: Rosh Hashanah looks like ראש השנה. “Rosh” means “head” in Hebrew, “ha” means “the”, and “shana” means “year.” So Rosh Hashana means “head of the year.”

Shana Tovah looks like שנה טובה in Hebrew. “Tov” or “Tovah” means “good”, so “Shana tovah” means “good year.” “Boker tov” (בוקר טוב) means good morning, “Lilah tov” (לילה טוב) means good night, etc.

Rosh Hashana is the Jewish new year, and we celebrate it by going to synagogue for a very long and occasionally tedious service. (At least that’s what I think of it). We eat sweet foods, especially apples and honey, to represent that we want a sweet year. The braided bread that you see a lot associated with Jews, challah (חלה, there’s the deep throat noise thingy on the first syllable, so it’s not chawl-ah. If you can’t make the noise, just say hal-ah) is baked in a round shape, to symbolize how a year is cyclical, instead of braided, and often people make it with raisins in it to be extra sweet. We dip it in honey too. SO GOOD.

It’s also the first in the year of the Jewish High Holy Days. At this time the Torah (תורה, the Jewish holy book) or Torahs are dressed in white covers, and some people dress in white too, or just dress up. We sing certain prayers and songs that we don’t sing throughout the year, and some of the tunes are different for what we do sing throughout the year. That’s probably my favorite part- the music. It just gives you a very holy feeling.

While it is a joyous holiday, during the High Holy Days we’re also starting to get ready for Yom Kippur (יום כיפור, pronounced “yohm keep-oor”), and we’re spending a lot of time thinking about the bad things we did during the year and trying to apologize to people we hurt, so when we atone in prayer on Yom Kippur, we already did the more important thing- atoning to the people who were affected by what we did.

There’s a bunch of Jewish holidays around this time, so I think I might make more posts about them as they come up.

  • Diaspora Jews: Rosh Hashanah begins tonight. We don't get any allotted time off to celebrate, so we need to take vacation days or make special arrangements to observe it. There has been no lead up to the holiday in the media; no tv movie specials, no holiday music, no seasonal Starbucks drinks. We do not decorate our houses for everyone to see and store clerks have not spent the last month telling us to have a good holiday. But nevertheless, it's actually one of the most sacred and important days in the Jewish calendar and we're all really looking forward to celebrating.
  • Western Christians: Okay...that sounds fake, but okay.

My 96 year old grandma watching the live streamed Kol Nidre service. She hasn’t been able to attend any High Holiday service for 10 years. She started crying when it started, and can’t stop smiling/mumbling/humming along. This is the true beauty of the High Holidays, and this modern age.

I figure y'all will find this as cute as I do.
littlegoythings returnofthejudai progressivejudaism

Is it that important?

Every. Single. Year. 

I tell professors that I will not be in class on the high holidays. 

Every. Single. Year. 

At least one tries to fight me on it. 

“Is it that important?” “Are you sure you can’t come?” “You really shouldn’t be missing class” “Well you get one unexcused absence a semester, I guess this one is it.” “Class that day is really important, it will be hard to make up.” 

Nobody would ever ask you to teach on Christmas. 
And you get to eat and drink on Christmas. 

Post a photo or quote on each day of Elul on your Social Media for meaningful reflection in preparation for the High Holidays!

Please reblog and share with your friends!

Here’s to a meaningful Elul for us all!


Last night, my whole immediate family was together for Rosh Hashanah for the first time since my brother started college.  I made a roast chicken with apples and sage,  sweet potatoes with thyme, and a fig galette.  I think I’m most proud of the fact that this is the first meal I’ve cooked for my family where everyone ate and enjoyed everything.  That never happens.  I also made a puff pastry crust from scratch and didn’t screw it up. 

I really didn’t have the time to go home this weekend, but I’m glad I did.  My family has a very particular dynamic when it’s just the four of us.  We can make each other laugh in ways that no one else can.  There are a lot of things about my life that I don’t love right now, but I have them and it’s an unspeakable comfort.


Dip Your Apple - Fountainheads Rosh Hashanah


I want to write about faith

     about the way the moon rises

     over cold snow, night after night,

faithful even as it fades from fullness,

      slowly becoming that last curving and impossible

     sliver of light before the final darkness.

But I have no faith myself

     I refuse it even the smallest entry.

Let this then, my small poem,

     like a new moon, slender and barely open,

    be the first prayer that opens me to faith.

Source: Mishkahn HaNefesh for Rosh Hashanah (p. 65)

Where does Israel get the courage– the chutzpah– to go on believing in redemption in a world that knows mass hunger, political exile, and war? How can Jews testify to hope and human value when they have continuously persecuted, hated, expelled destroyed?  Out of the memories of the Exodus!
—  Mishkahn HaNefesh for Rosh Hashanah (p. 163– before the Mi Chamocha)