By Michaela McKasson
Last month, the students of University celebrated a few of the many days off we are lucky to have during the fall semester. While most of us spent it at home watching TV, or maybe catching up on homework, some were celebrating Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year. In some ways, Rosh HaShanah is celebrated like the secular New Year; we spend time with family, eat just a bit too much, and make pledges for a better up-and-coming year. However, one thing that is unique is the focus on forgiveness. The idea is to start the new year clean. One asks for forgiveness not only from God, but also from friends and family. Forgiveness is given to those who were wrong in the past. This leads into the next day we have off of school: Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement.” Like the name suggests, it’s a serious day. It’s the day where one is supposed to clear oneself of their sins against God through prayer and fasting, but that doesn’t mean it is necessarily unenjoyable, especially considering all of the food eaten afterward.
Like in every religion, each family has their own traditions, and each member has their own opinions on these traditions. While some love every aspect of these holidays (including the not-so-enjoyable fast), some participate merely because it’s part of their heritage, and others choose not to participate at all. For such a small school, University is lucky enough to have several students and faculty that are Jewish, and these, too, have differing opinions on these holidays. For example, Valerie Kraft, a junior at University, describes her Rosh HaShanah experience as more of a time to get together and eat with family, and less of a religious experience: “We spend the whole day cooking: me, my mom, my sister. We cook, like, old family recipes.” Freshman Zoe Mervis describes how she enjoys participating in services, as they make her feel more a part of the Jewish community.
A significant portion of our traditions are linked to food. There are many symbolic foods on the table at a Rosh HaShanah or Yom Kippur dinner. A big favorite is apples and honey, which symbolizes a sweet new year. There are also the delicious, round, raisin challot (plural form of the word challah, a traditional Jewish bread), which symbolizes the cycle of the year, as well pomegranate’s numerous seeds, symbolizing the many hopes for the new year.
For the Jewish students of University High School, these two weeks are two of the most significant of the Jewish year, full of tradition, family, and food. Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are two very significant holidays that all students are grateful to have off and, whether you spend your days off in bed or at synagogue, have a happy and sweet new year.