A Sweet New Year; Exploring Rosh Hashanah Traditions

Rosh Hashanah is a holiday filled with many symbolic foods with both literal and philosophical meanings (Ava Rowse/Mitzpeh).


As the weather changes and fall quickly approaches, the campus hums with the start of a new semester. Students, faculty and staff rush between classes, acclimating to a busy new semester. Amid the academic buzz, the Jewish community on campus pauses, preparing to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. 

The holiday, which commemorates the creation of the world, begins on the evening of Friday, September 15th. For many Jewish students, It’s a time of both joyous celebration and serious reflection for the year to come. However, not all students will be going home for the holiday. In light of this, campus Jewish organizations such as Chabad and Hillel are hosting services for students who choose to stay on campus. 

Just as students will choose from a diverse array of plans for the new year, they will also choose to celebrate a variety of different traditions. One universal tradition includes the blowing of the Shofar, a ritual ram’s horn that acts as a ‘wake up call,’ encouraging listeners to repent for any sins committed in the past year. Joshua Katz, a junior Aerospace Engineering major has been fond of this tradition from a young age. Katz said “I remember my father blowing the shofar for us… and that definitely is a memory that stuck.”

The shofar plays a central role in Rosh Hashanah celebrations and is one of Chabad Rabbi Eli Backman’s favorite traditions as well. “I’ve been blowing shofar now since my bar mitzvah, blowing shofar is something special to me,” said Backman. “It’s a skill and has a lot of background behind it…it holds a lot of meaning as a yearly tradition and being able to do that for someone is special.” 

In addition to blowing the shofar, some Persian Jews serve cow tongue at their Rosh Hashanah dinner to symbolize bringing in success for the new year. Rosh Hashanah is a holiday filled with many symbolic foods with both literal and philosophical meanings. Yonatan Khakshoor, a Sephardi student, enjoys this tradition because “it just tastes good.” He noted that some Ashkenazi families use the head of a fish instead to symbolize being “the head and not the bottom” of the new year. 

Eating pomegranate seeds is another holiday favorite, symbolizing a new year filled with blessings as plentiful as a pomegranate’s seeds. “It’s through Rosh Hashanah I learned pomegranate seeds are among the few fruits I do eat,” said senior Psychology major Yakir Kanefsky. Kanefsky resonates with this tradition because “as you eat them it helps you focus on doing good things and taking good actions.” 

Students will decide whether they celebrate these traditions at home or on campus, as Rabbi Backman put it “we’re here for those who are here.”  Rabbi Backman expects a quieter service this year since the holiday falls on the weekend and more students may celebrate at home. However, he hopes Chabad will still be able to hold some of the activities they’ve hosted in the past such as shofar making and challah baking. 

Hillel will be providing services and meals as well for students to attend. All meals are free for UMD students and the exact schedule can be found on the Hillel website. “Starting today and tomorrow [September 12th and 13th] we’re tabling on campus with apples, honey and challah just to share with students [so] they can participate in a sweet new year,” said Dawn Savage, Maryland Hillel’s assistant director of student life.

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