The Jewish New Year: From Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur

Celebrating Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur

Blog by Rabbi Jonathon Simons, a Jewish studies teacher in the UK. He teaches coding and robotics to primary school children and is CEO of his own company Code Inventorz.

Celebrating different cultures matters. Every student should feel safe to express who they are and share their beliefs, values, and traditions. There are roughly 5.8 million Jewish people in the US, and Jewish children account for around 1.4% of students.

Learning about different religious and cultural perspectives benefits the whole community, and when students feel a sense of belonging at school, they’re more likely to be engaged and work to achieve their goals.

Providing meaningful ways to celebrate cultural diversity gives students the chance to share their unique backgrounds and feel a sense of self-worth. So, let’s learn all about the Jewish New Year — from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur!

Literally translated as “Head of the Year,” Rosh Hashanah lasts for two days and starts on the first day of Tishrei, which is the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. It’s known by four different names, each alluding to the essence of a particular day.

  1. Rosh Hashanah (Head of the Year) — The first day of the year. It represents the creation of man in the Biblical narrative.
  2. Yom Ha Din (Day of Judgement) — The world and all the people in it are judged on this day for what will occur in the coming year.
  3. Yom Teruah (Day of Blowing) — The Shofar is a ram’s horn that is blown during Rosh Hashanah. Just as a king of flesh and blood is heralded by trumpets, blowing the Shofar is a declaration that Hashem is our king.
  4. Yom Hazikkaron (Day of Remembrance) — We acknowledge that Hashem is our god and cares for s all people. He watches and remembers our earthly deeds.

Preparation for Rosh Hashanah begins a month before Tishrei, in the previous Jewish month called Elul. We add prayers to the temple services called Selichot and blow the Shofar.

This preparation is essential as the main theme of Rosh Hashanah is Teshuvah — repenting for the mistakes that we’ve made and resolving to improve our behavior towards both Hashem and other people.

The literal meaning of the word Teshuvah means “to return.” It’s the attempt to return the soul to its original, pristine state. We spend our time making concrete steps to improve ourselves and start the year afresh.

Even though it might sound daunting to aim for perfection, we’re told by our Rabbis to have confidence in ourselves that everything will go well on this special day. We find strength with friends and family and gather for festive meals with them on those days.

Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur lasts one day and falls on the tenth of Tishrei. “Kippur” means forgiveness and it is the culmination of all the preparation we’ve been doing during Elul. It coincides with the day in biblical history when Hashem forgave the Jewish people for making and worshipping a false idol (a Golden Calf).

It’s a serious day, but at the same time, it’s a happy day as we’re confident that the world has been judged for the better.

We ask forgiveness for our actions in the previous year, both from Hashem and from other people we may have offended.

Men customarily wear a long white garment called a Kittel. It’s worn for two reasons. The pure white colour of a Kittel is a reference to the purity of angels. Secondly, a Kittel is traditionally the garment that a Jewish person is buried in. It reminds us of the seriousness of the day and that there is no time to waste in life.

On Yom Kippur, we do not eat or drink, or wear leather shoes. We spend all day in the Synagogue in prayer in order to keep our minds focused on the importance of the day.

We read the Biblical story of Jonah and the Whale, which ends with Jonah convincing the city of Ninveh to change their ways, allowing them to be forgiven. We hope to be forgiven in the same way.

Laws and customs of Rosh Hashanah

The Shofar is blown in three combinations of different notes. The Tekiah — a long note, Teruah — nine short notes, Shevarim — three short notes. The sounds are meant to resemble a person crying as a reference to the repentance of Teshuvah. You can learn about the different sounds in more detail here and hear the different sounds here.

There are three main prayers

  1. Malchiyus (Kingship)— We crown Hashem as our King.
  2. Zichronos (Remembrance) — We understand that Hashem remembers everything that we do.
  3. Shofaros (Shofar) — We proclaim Hashem as our King. 
Resources for Classroom Activities

New year’s resolution — Encourage your students to pick one thing they would like to improve on this year and three steps they can do to achieve their goal. The perfect task for a video response in Kami.

Kami — Of course! Create a worksheet with embedded videos of how the Shofar is made and its sounds. Children can try to copy the Hebrew words for the names of the Shofar notes. Or see our ready-made templates in the Kami Library.

Jigzi — Loads of games about the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Kahoot has some great games too!

Or check out these videos on YouTube:
Shofar Factory (How A Shofar Is Made)
The Story of Yonah

Embrace diversity in your classroom, and give some of the above activities a go!

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