The Jewish High Holy Days: A celebration of repentance


Katherine Kesner

Although Jewish culture isn’t at the forefront of our American society, many students of Mountain View High School will be returning to their ancestral roots in preparation for the holiest of holidays–The High Holy Days. While Rosh Hashanah has elapsed, its sister holiday, Yom Kippur has not, and much can be learned from both events.

Rosh Hashanah, which started last Sunday night and finished on Monday, means Head of the Year in Hebrew, signifying how God will predict the coming year on this holy day. It lasts for two days, in which some kinds of work are not allowed. Sacred candles are lit, and as sophomore Mira Cohen states, “we eat lots of honey and apples for a sweet new year,” as well as “honey-cake, or anything [with] honey.” Each, day, the prayer service includes the playing of the ram’s horn, or shofar.

Maurycy – Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur is considered by many to be the paramount holiday of Judaism. It is “nine days later [than Rosh Hashanah,] and is a day of forgiveness…you forgive anyone you have hurt during the past year.” Its translation into Hebrew means “Day of Atonement,” so the day is used in penance for the sins of the past year. In Judaism, God is believed to keep all people’s names in a book, along with judgment of each person’s soul. On Yom Kippur, these records for the year become permanent. Prohibited actions include eating within twenty-five hours, or working that day. Cohen explains that, “The level of fasting depends on the family. For example, exceptions are made for the weak, young, or old if they cannot complete the fast.” White, as a symbol of spiritual purity, is usually worn on Yom Kippur. This year the holy day occurs on September 26.

Both of these Holy Days call for spiritual cleansing, using metaphorical actions create literal changes. Unlike mainstream American holidays, which often relate to material excess and rarely to greater ideals of brotherly love and forgiveness, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur focus on each individual’s relationship with God, stressing that self-improvement will come through sacrifice. Forgive and forget, many say, and as we learn from the Jews, celebrate and remember.