From the Editor
Our free e-zine has been developed to help you enhance your Jewish lifestyle.
Once a month, around Rosh Chodesh (the beginning of the Jewish month), israelVisit will send you interesting and useful information about events in the Jewish calendar, customs and traditions. There will also be interviews or stories of interest to the general Jewish public. And, of course, we will let you know about the new products and services on offer at israelVisit.
Days of Awe: Apples, Honey and Angels
By Chaya Leader
"May your year be as sweet as honey." "May you be inscribed in the book of life!" These are two of the many blessings for the Jewish New Year-Rosh Hashanah-literally, the Head of the Year. Rosh Hashanah is September 21-22 this year. This is the first and the second of the Hebrew month Tishrei. Ten days later is Yom Hakipurim -- twenty-four hours of fasting, introspection and prayer -- the Day of Atonement. The collective name for these two holy days as well as the additional days of repentance between them is the Days of Awe.
Rosh Hashanah is a holiday with ancient Biblical roots and modern relevance. The weekly day of rest is Shabbat -- the Sabbath. Shabbat includes physical rest, celebration, prayer and feasting. It is time-out in the busy week for spiritual renewal. Rosh Hashanah is a marathon of prayer, celebration and feasting. It is both solemn and joyous. Refraining from eating and other creature comforts on Yom Hakippurim allows us to concentrate on prayer and repentance/returning to our connection with the Eternal.
In the Mishna, an ancient compendium of Rabbinic dialog and wisdom, Rabbi Eliezer taught that the world was created in Tishrei and this is expressed in the liturgy in the prayer book. Rosh Hashanah also caries the themes of judgment and God's kingship. The Bible (Lev 23:23-25 and Num 29:1-6) calls Rosh Hashanah a day "of memorial proclaimed with blast of horns." This horn is usually a ram's horn for many historical and symbolic reasons. The horn-shofar-is blown at certain times throughout the two days of prayers and is a powerful sound that vibrates through the body, heart and soul.
The sage R. Saadiah Gaon says "the shofar is sounded at the coronation of a king and God is hailed as king on this day. The shofar heralds the beginning of the repentance season and the Torah was given on Mount Sinai accompanied by blasts on the shofar. The prophets compare their messasge to the sound of a shofar. And the ram was a substitute sacrifice for Isaac. The prophet Isaiah speaks of the great shofar which will herald the messianic age (Isa 27;13). And the shofar will be sounded at the resurrection of the dead.
The Rambam-Maimonides-in Yad Teshuvah 3:4) writes "although it is a divine decree that we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah it is as if to say 'awake from your slumbers ye who have fallen asleep in life and reflect on your deeds. Remember your Creator. Look to your souls and improve your character.
Families and guests gather for festive meals after synagogue services. Beginning with a blessing over wine or grape juice-Kiddush-and on to a blessing over bread-Hamotzi. It is customary to dip the bread in honey and to dip apples in honey to symbolize a sweet year. Several symbolic foods are eaten before the meal. For example: pomegranate, which are filled with many seeds symbolize a year filled with good deeds-mitzvot. A special blessing celebrating life and renewal is said before lighting the holiday candles, donning new holiday clothes and for fruits tasted for the first time that season.
We are like angels on Yom Hakippurim, laying aside material pursuits to immerse ourselves in prayer and repentance. During the prayers the shofar blasts again to reimind us to repent. Wearing white garments reminds us of our mortality and of our likeness to the angels. The sense of smell is not afflicted on Yom Hakippurim. Many bring bouquets of basil, myrtle and lavender to the synagogue in order to inhale the reviving fragrances. At the end of Yom HaKippurim the shofar blasts on long, final sound and we pray to merit "Next year in Jerusalem."
Rabbanit Emunah Witt:
On August 26, israelVisit E-zine interviewed Rabbanit Emunah Witt, wife of Rabbi Yehoshua Witt, at their Jerusalem apartment. Like her husband, Rabbanit Witt, whom everyone calls Emunah, is from the U.S. and has lived in Israel since the early 70's. The Witts have fourteen children, three of whom are married. Both Emunah and Yehoshua were close disciples of the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.
israelVisit E-zine: What would you like to say about Rosh Hashanah, Emunah?
Emunah: First of all since this is the birthday of the creation of the universe I would like to bless everyone in the world with a good year. Second of all I want to talk about honey cake. Everyone knows that you eat sweet things on Rosh Hashanah like honey cake, right.
israelVisit E-zine: Sure, to symbolize a sweet year.
Emunah: Well, my family has a tradition that on the day before the holiday everyone, my husband and my children ask for a piece of honey cake. The idea is that you ask for something before Rosh Hashanah, you receive it and enjoy it and you don't have to ask on Rosh Hashanah. God gives you all the good things, all the blessings because you already asked.
israelVisit E-zine: Does that mean you don't have to pray on Rosh Hashanah?
Emunah: Not at all. Of course everyone has to pray. But this honey cake thing is helping to open the heavenly gates of blessing.
israelVisit E-zine: What else would you like to share with us?
Emunah: You know that the shofar has different sounds. There's the strong, powerful blast and then there's a sound like wailing, like crying. So it connects us with all the generations of Jews who suffered and sacrificed their lives for the sanctification of God's name. The sound of the shofar is like God's breath, a cry of longing and yearning that each person in the world should know the point of why he is in this world.
israelVisit E-zine: Do you spend the two days of Rosh Hashanah praying in the synagogue?
Emunah: I have four small children at home. I go to hear the shofar and the rest of the time I pray at home.
At this point Emunah's teenage daughter, Shuvi, rushed in and said that a new bride had just phoned requesting that Emunah prepare a party for that evening. Emunah said that she needed at least twenty-four hours advance notice. Some other of her children offered to buy provisions and prepare salads with Shuvi and the party was on.
israelVisit E-zine: Is it always this hectic?
Emunah: You call this hectic? Usually there's a constant stream of kids, students, friends and visitors.
israelVisit E-zine: Can you share a Rosh Hashanah memory with us.
Emunah: Many years ago we were celebrating Rosh Hashanah in the village of Modiin with Rabbi Shlomo. On the day before Rosh Hashanah a group of us went to the locked gate of the village with the Rabbi. He unlocked the gate and said, "From now on the gates of heaven are open for you all." We didn't leave the gate until all twenty people gave a blessing to everyone else from the deepest depths of their hearts.
Beautiful buys from israelVisit
Treat yourself, family and friends to beautiful Judaica gifts from Israel. Many of these items are appropriate for Rosh Hashana. Choose from a range of exclusive jewelry, ritual objects, art and unique music cassettes created by outstanding artists.
Artist Michael Folickman offers exquisite miniature original oil or watercolour paintings and prints with Jewish themes. What about some new pictures to grace the walls of your home for the New Year or the walls of your succah for the festival of Succot?
"Charity saves from death." Thus says the liturgy of Rosh Hashanah. A tzedaka (charity box) created in glass and sterling silver by artist Chaim Peretz is a lovely way to remind us to share our bounty with those less fortunate. These tzedeka boxes make an outstanding gift for your synagogue as well as for the home.
It is the custom to light a candle to memorialize departed relatives before Rosh Hashanah and Yom HaKippurim as well as the anniversary of their parting. Place the candle in Shoshana Oliva's silver candleholder, with optional personalized inscription, to add more dignity and beauty to this custom.
Jewish men give their wives presents of jewelry before the holidays according to ancient custom. Take a look at Sara Tamir's necklaces, pins and earrings. Aren't they something special? Among her elegant creations are jewelry with Judaica themes, such as her Jerusalem necklace.
Splendor Records creates music with Jewish themes played in a European symphonic style.
Replace those old bentchers with new ones from The Birchonim Site. This site offers you The Month of Tishrei, which contains kiddush for Rosh Hashanah, customs for the night of Rosh Hashanah, kapparot, and vidui for erev Yom Hakippurim. It also includes kiddush for Succot, Hakafot, Simhat Torah, Birchat Hamazon and Sheva Brachot. All Hebrew.
The Torah Lishma Institute brings you translations and study guides for the Talmud, including Tractate Rosh Hashanah.
An unusual gift for you, family and friends is a red string, blessed at the Tomb of Rachel according to ancient Kabbalistic custom.