A ‘sweet’ new year

Rosh Hashana, a religious holiday that occurs before Yom Kippur, may sound vaguely familiar to some, but for Jewish communities it is an important spiritual celebration of the New Year.

The holiday ends Sunday. Beginning Friday, the Chabad Jewish Student Center will host Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services at the Clarion Hotel & Conference Center on Fowler Avenue. Candles will be lighted at 7:12 p.m. Friday and the service begins at 7:30 p.m. Services throughout the weekend are open to those of any background or affiliation.

In the Bible, Rosh Hashana is referred to as the “Day of Remembrance,” when Jewish
people celebrate the completion of the creation of the universe and reflect on wrongdoings of the past year, hoping to grow as spiritual individuals.

Rosh Hashana begins at sundown on 29 Elul, which is the sixth month in the Hebrew calendar. According to the calendar, the holiday never begins on the first, fourth or sixth day of the week. Celebrations occur Saturday and Sunday, with Sunday being a day of rest.

“We celebrate it around the same time every year, it just depends on the moon,” said Rabbi Uriel Rivkin, a rabbi for students at USF.

The first week of Rosh Hashana begins when the shofar blast – a ram horn – is blown, Rivkin said.

Every day during Rosh Hashana, 100 blasts are blown in four different tones, according to religionfacts.com.

Rivkin, who has worked with USF students for seven years, said he encourages USF students to join in the celebration this weekend.

“(I want students) to enjoy the opportunity to get more involved in their heritage. It is a good thing for the soul to do,” he said. “(Rosh Hashana) is the sixth day of the creation of the universe – it is why we are here.”

Rivkin said his religion goes far back into his family. His father is also a rabbi.

“I have always been Jewish, all the way down my family,” Rivkin said.

For USF students, this holiday brings back memories.

Sam Pearlson, a senior majoring in creative writing, whose father has been a rabbi in Miami since he was a child, said he could not imagine spending the holidays without his family.

“For me it’s more than just a New Year – it’s the one out of a few times that I get to be with my family,” he said.

During the holiday, electronics are not allowed to be used.

“Because we don’t use cell phones, cars or anything with electricity, I get to really relax and enjoy my time,” Pearlson said. “It’s the start of a new beginning where I get to think about where I’m going.”

Pearlson, vice president of Alpha Epsilon Pi, chose the Jewish fraternity to remain close to his heritage.

“Being closer to my religion is so much more important now that I am a senior, and it is because of this (holiday) that I get to reflect on the past year and how to become a better person,” Pearlson said.

Junior biomedical science major Brian Lehrer, who grew up in a conservative Jewish family, said he hopes to travel to West Palm Beach this weekend to celebrate with his family.

“This holiday is my favorite time of year to be Jewish,” Lehrer said.

Fish, challah – a type of round bread – and pomegranate are the main three foods consumed during Rosh Hashana. According to religionfacts.com, the fish represent prosperity, the challah represents the cyclical nature of the year and the pomegranate, with 613 seeds, represents the 613 commandments.

People also dip challah bread and apples in honey as a symbol of “sweetness.”

“Dipping the apple in honey is my favorite. It’s like celebrating a sweet new year,” Lehrer said. “It’s kind of symbolic, because you want to start the new year improving yourself in spirit and as an individual.”

For questions or more information, contact Rivkin at (813) 832-3018 or chabadusf@gmail.com.