Pope Francis sent cordial greetings to the Jewish community of Rome and throughout the world to mark three upcoming Jewish holidays. They are: Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), Yom Kippur  (Day of Atonement)," and Sukkot: the Feast of the Booths or Tabernacles. This Rosh Hashanah marks Year 5777 in Jewish history. The observance of Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown on October 2 this year and continues for two days.

Addressing the Chief Rabbi of Rome Riccardo Di Segni, the Pope expressed his hope that the holy days would bring “abundant blessings.”  He wrote: "May the Almighty grant us the untiring desire to promote peace and strengthen the cordial links of friendship between us.”

Rosh Hashanah translates as “head of the year” or “first of the year." The feast marks the anniversary of the birth of the universe through God’s creation of Adam and Eve. Among pious Jews throughout the world, the holy day is marked by reflection on the deeds of the past year and how to address the New Year. 
 
Rosh Hashanah is celebrated on different days each year, according to the Hebrew lunar calendar. It occurs on the first and second days of the Jewish month of Tishri, which is the seventh month of the religious year, falling on the first month of the civil year. It also marks the start of Yamim Noraim (high holidays), which continues with Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) on the 10th day of Tishri.
 
There are few similarities with the celebration of Rosh Hashanah and the civil New Year. Work is prohibited on Rosh Hashanah, and on that day Jews assemble in prayer at synagogue. Jewish communities and families gather to feast. Among the traditional, symbolic foods are challah bread and apples dipped in honey to signify wishes for a sweet and fruitful new year. Another tradition is blowing on a shofar – a hollowed out ram’s horn – as many as 100 times. The Jewish Bible -- the holy Torah -- refers to Rosh Hashanah as Yom Teruah – day of shofar blowing -- as well as Tashlikh, where sins are symbolically cast off by emptying one’s pockets into a body of water. 
 
Rosh Hashanah is the first feast of the Days of Awe: 10 days that end with Yom Kippur, when Jews reflect upon and repent of evil deed. Pious Jews believe that God has a “book of life,” in which he marks down the names of those who have either had a good year or a bad year.
 
Rather than wishing each other "Happy New Year," observant Jews greet each other with L’shanah tovah, literally “for a good year.” This is shortened from “L’shanah tovah tikatevi v’taihatemi” to women, or to men “L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem." Both mean “may you be inscribed and sealed for a good year," referring to the inscription of a person’s name in the “book of life.”
 
Among the prayers that mark the Days of Awe is the following prayer that is offered while holding a cup of wine before an evening meal: 
 

This is the blessing given while holding a cup of wine before the evening meal: “Praised are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe who has chosen and distinguished us by sanctifying our lives with commandments. Lovingly have you given us this Day of Remembrance, a day for recalling the shofar sound, a day for holy assembly and for recalling the Exodus from Egypt. Thus have you chosen us, sanctifying us among all people. Your faithful word endures forever. Praise are You, Lord, Ruler of all the earth, who sanctifies, the people Israel and the Day of Remembrance.”



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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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