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L'Shanah Tovah (Happy New Year)!

Orthodox Jews in Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights prepare to celebrate the first day of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year

The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown on Sunday, September 16. At its core is the teaching that G-d gives second chances and invites everyone to do the same.

In Hebrew, “rosh” means “head.” The prefix “ha” means “the,” and “shanah” means “year.” Therefore, Rosh Hashanah means “Head of the Year” and represents the celebration of the beginning of the Jewish New Year. L'Shanah Tovah is the traditional Rosh HaShanah greeting, wishing others a good year, and it is often shortened to "L'Shanah Tovah" (Good Year).

“As the old year goes out, we will go to synagogue the evening before Rosh Hashanah and then come home and have a Yom Tov (holiday) meal,” said Michoel Behrman, an Orthodox Jew of the Lubavitch sect in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

“Tomorrow, Rosh Hashanah restores the world and brings with it a life that has never been here before. It is said that even the fish in the sea will tremble, because G-d decides what will happen to everyone on this day.”

Rosh Hashanah is considered the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve. It is the birthday of mankind, highlighting the special relationship between G‑d and humanity. Orthodox Jews use G-d because they believe that God's name is holy and should not be said by humans.

Much of the day will be spent in synagogue. According to Behrman, since it is considered to be one of the five major holidays, observers cannot drive, work, turn on any electric lights or light a new fire. Also, from 10:00am – 3:00pm, observers generally do not drink or eat anything, he said.

The central observance of Rosh Hashanah is the sounding of the ram’s horn, known as the shofar. In northern Bed-Stuy and parts of Crown Heights, you may notice very large crowds of Hasidic Jews gathering today at select synagogues at around 12:00pm - 12:30pm, the approximate time of the sounding of the shofar.

The cry of the shofar is a call to repentance, as the holiday is also the anniversary of man's first sin and his subsequent repentance. Therefore, Rosh Hashanah also serves as the first of the "Ten Days of Repentance" which will culminate in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

“Everything that follows in the coming year will be ordained on this day,” Behrman said. “It’s like a bank. We put it in the bank on that day, but will slowly make withdrawals throughout the year of the things that are ordained to happen.”

They bless one another with the words Leshanah tovah tikateiv veteichateim, "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year." This saying is the equivalent of Isaiah 54:17 in the Bible, which states, “No weapon formed against thee shall prosper.”

Behrman says, on this day, all Jews intend to leave their old shortcomings behind them, and thus start the new year with a clean slate. They may also visit a body of water and recite the Tashlich prayers, symbolically casting their sins into the water, in evocation of the verse, "And You shall cast their sins into the depths of the sea."

And as with every major Jewish holiday, the women and girls will light candles on each evening of Rosh Hashanah and recite the appropriate prayers. After the prayers each night and morning, they recite Kiddush on wine, make a blessing over the challah, and finally, enjoy a festive repast.

“Rosh Hashanah is both a very solemn day and a very joyous day, because you are repenting, but also, it is a time of renewal,” said Behrman.

This is a re-print of an article that ran on Bed-Stuy Patch, September 29, 2011.

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