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Known as the High Holidays, the time of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur has arrived and many have been preparing for the moment to partake in live communal services and sweet feasts once again. 

These days may have looked a little different last year for local Jewish residents who observe the holiday. Services went virtual and people instead had to stay home to enjoy their honey bread and observe the ringing of the shofar (a ram’s horn used like a trumpet during Jewish religious ceremonies). To properly observe the new year and the Day of Atonement, there are a couple traditions and practices that may be helpful to know.

Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, begins at sundown Sept. 6 and celebrations last until after nightfall Sept. 8. This year marks the year 5782, following the Jewish lunar calendar, rather than the Gregorian solar calendar. Rosh Hashanah is both a time of celebration and of self-evaluation and is one of the most widely celebrated holidays in Judaism. It is a time of introspection, urging you to look inward and judge your actions. Central traditions of Rosh Hashanah include blowing the shofar, which is typically done at a synagogue and serves as a reminder to reflect and repent your sins from the past year. 

The blowing of the shofar is done to represent the binding of Isaac, which occurred on Rosh Hashanah, in which a ram was sacrificed to God in Isaac’s place. Abby Stein, a reform Jew from Irvine, said the blowing of the shofar is quite possibly the most notable part of any Rosh Hashanah service.

“The sound of the shofar fills the synagogue with awe in remembrance of how God fills the space and time around us,” Stein said.

Along with observing the blowing of the shofar and chanting “Shanah tovah” meaning “Happy New Year,” indulging in sweet meals and taking time off from work are other principal traits of Rosh Hashanah.

To learn more about traditional dishes and recipes, visit the My Jewish Learning website to view a variety of recipes for challah, entrees, desserts and drinks.

Cantor David Reinwald, one of the clergy at Temple Beth Sholom in Santa Ana, stressed the importance of certain foods eaten during this time, which are essential to the holiday. 

“Symbolic foods that are eaten during this time include apples and honey, representing the hope for a sweet new year, and round loaves of challah bread, representing the cyclical nature of the year,” Reinwald said.

Overall, many of the foods consumed for Rosh Hashanah are on the sweeter side, however many varieties of brisket and chicken entrees are also enjoyed. 

Yom Kippur

Following 10 days after Rosh Hashanah is the holiest day of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur, landing this year on Sept. 15. Known as the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur is when those of Jewish belief ask for forgiveness for any wrongdoings they’ve committed over the past year and start the new year off with a clean slate.

“The color white is quite symbolic for the whole of the High Holy Days, representative of this clean slate and purity,” cantor Reinwald said.

Traditions for this 25-hour Day of Atonement include fasting from sundown the evening before Yom Kippur day until sundown the following day. There are, of course, some exemptions to the fasting requirement, which include anyone below bar/bat mitzvah age (around 12 or 13 years of age) or anyone for whom it may pose a health risk.

Below are a few local synagogues and organizations hosting virtual or in-person High Holiday services:

Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Newport Beach

Chabad of North Irvine

Temple Beth Shalom in Santa Ana

Temple Beth Tikvah in Fullerton

Temple Beth David in Westminster

Temple Beth Emet in Anaheim

North County Chabad Center in Yorba Linda

University Synagogue in Irvine  

Temple Beth El of South Orange County in Aliso Viejo

For a complete list of Jewish congregations in Orange County, visit the website of the Jewish Federation of Orange County

Fasting is demonstrative of focusing on one’s own spiritual needs rather than any physical needs or desires, overall strengthening the personal relationship to the divine. Other prohibited activities include sexual interactions, the use of oils, wearing leather shoes and bathing.

This year services for both of these holidays may be held either virtually online, or in some sort of hybrid form depending on the synagogue. Most synagogues will likely require a reservation ahead of time due to COVID restrictions, so double check before heading to a service near you. 

Many Jews, including Stein, may miss the usual festivals, games and social gatherings that occurred during this time prior to COVID. 

“Although these holidays may be celebrated a little different this year due to the pandemic, they are still important to me as it allows me to rejoice with family and friends as another year has come and gone, but also take time to look back and take the time to reflect on my past actions,” Stein said about still being able to observe the holiday despite COVID restrictions.

There are a number of ways for you to commemorate these special holidays whether you attend an in-person service, blow your own shofar at home or watch an online livestream of a synagogue’s service. 

Crystal Henriquez is a writing fellow for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at crystalh774@gmail.com.

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