Tashlich, Challah, Shofar: The traditions of the Jewish New Year

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, starts this evening.

“And now let us welcome the new year, full of things that never were.” — Rainer Maria Wilke

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, starts this evening. It begins a time of teshuva, the Hebrew word for return. A return to the path of righteousness, repentance.

A new year.

New! A word with so much hope, so much wonder, so much promise. The delight of a new pair of shoes. The discovery of a tasty new to you food. The vivid greens of new buds in spring. The crisp feel of new sheets on your bed. The wonderful smell of a new book when you first open it.

New! A word that can also evoke so much fear and anxiety. Being the new kid at school. The first day on the new job. Moving to a new town. Meeting new people.

With new comes the promise of the future, but also the burden of memories of the past.

A new year is an exciting opportunity to start fresh. To reflect on where we may have stumbled in the past and resolve to do better from here on.

A new year is also daunting. As we scroll back through the memories and deeds of the year, we can be hit square on with too many flaws, too many times we did not live up to our own expectations, too many times we just plain failed ourselves or others.

In Judaism we practice certain traditions and rituals during Rosh Hashanah to help ground us, nudge us, into focusing on the potential, the opportunities afforded to us with new. For sure, in the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we will be asked to do deep reflection and atonement, but on Rosh Hashanah we focus on the sweet.

Challah, the traditional long, braided bread of the Sabbath table, is formed into a round for Rosh Hashanah, symbolizing the eternal cycle of life. The bread is traditionally dipped in honey, symbolizing the hopes for a sweet New Year. The same is done with apples, which are made even sweeter with the addition of honey.

A popular tradition associated with the holiday is a ceremony performed on the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah called Tashlich, when people throw crumbs or pieces of bread, symbolizing their sins, into flowing water. So if you see a group of people lining Gold Creek on Sept. 30 throwing bits of bread into the creek, it’s probably the Juneau Jewish community casting away our sins from the year.

One of the most stirring rituals of Rosh Hashanah is the blowing of the shofar, an ancient musical horn typically made of a ram’s horn. The sound of the shofar serves as reminder of the covenant between God and the people of Israel, carrying with it the message of sacrifice, hope and continuity.

It is that hope and continuity that guides us as we embark on the opportunities that a new year holds. The certain knowledge that we will try, we will strive, we will do many things well and good, but we will also stumble. We will pick ourselves back up and we will try again. For it is the trying, the trying to live as to serve God, to live our code of ethics that is important. With each new year we have again the opportunity to start fresh and to take that first new step on this righteous path.

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

— Martin Luther King Jr.


• Patricia Turner Custard is a member of Congregation Sukkat Shalom. High holiday services will be held at Congregation Sukkat Shalom beginning today. For dates and times of services, contact cssjuneau@gmail.com. “Living Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders.


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