Diversity Matters: Jewish High Holy Days

September 20, 2017  //  FOUND IN: Updates & Resources,

Beginning at sundown tonight, many in the Michigan Medicine Jewish community will observe a 10-day period known as the High Holy Days.

The High Holy Days begin with Rosh Hashanah, a celebration of the Jewish new year, and end with Yom Kippur, the annual day of atonement. The days between are known as “The Ten Days of Repentance.”

“During the High Holy Days, people of the Jewish faith often attend worship services and many will refrain from working,” said Rabbi Sara Adler, a chaplain with Michigan Medicine’s Department of Spiritual Care. “It’s a sacred time of the year — a time when people reflect on their past and look to the future.”

To better serve patients, families and coworkers during the High Holy Days, here’s what you may not know about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur:

Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah falls on the first two days of the month of Tishrei on the Hebrew calendar. According to the Talmud — or sacred religious texts — that is the time the world was created. Rosh Hashanah typically falls during either September or October on the Gregorian calendar.

During the holiday, family members and neighbors wish each other “Shanah Tovah,” which translates to “have a good year.”

Apples and honey are traditionally eaten — to symbolize a sweet year ahead — and a ram’s horn, or shofar, is sounded during religious services to remind people to look inward and repent for the sins of the past.

“These traditions have been a part of the Jewish people for thousands of years,” Rabbi Adler said. “It is a time of renewal and an opportunity for us to refocus our priorities and goals. Hearing the shofar blown and engaging in prayer with our community helps us acknowledge the good in our lives as well as those things which we would like to change. It strengthens our resolve to do better in the coming year.”

If patients ask for certain foods during Rosh Hashanah, consult with his or her registered dietitian nutritionist to see what can be provided.

Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur — or the “Day of Atonement” — closes out the Ten Days of Repentance and is seen by many in the Jewish community to be the holiest day of the year. This year, it begins at sundown on Friday, Sept. 29 and ends at sundown on Saturday, Sept. 30.

“While Rosh Hashanah is a festive occasion, Yom Kippur is more solemn and a time of deep personal and communal reflection,” Rabbi Adler said. “Our tradition urges us to use this time to seek forgiveness from those in our lives whom we may have wronged and to work on our relationship with God and the community. On Yom Kippur, we address the core issues of what it means to be Jewish and what it means to be human, with all of our strengths and imperfections.”

Many in the Jewish community fast on Yom Kippur to meet the requirement “to practice self-denial” as mentioned in the Torah — or Jewish holy book.

While fasting has religious significance, exceptions are made for those who are ill, elderly or pregnant. Again, please consult with a patient’s registered dietitian nutritionist to see what can be offered at Michigan Medicine.

Most synagogues offer day-long prayer services during Yom Kippur. The shofar is sounded at the conclusion of the day, and families and communities come together at sundown to break the fast.

“By refraining from eating and working, Yom Kippur gives us the opportunity to reflect on the blessings we have been given. Fasting reminds us of the plight of those who lack access to food and nutrition so that we will grow sensitive to those needs and deepen our commitment to social justice and ‘tzedakah’ or acts of charity,” said Rabbi Adler.  “The High Holy Days give us a fresh start to what will hopefully be a sweet new year ahead.”