Those of us with Jewish ancestors may be thinking of how our families marked Rosh Hashanah, or Jewish New Year, in the past. This year, Rosh Hashanah begins on the evening of Monday 6 September and ends on the evening of 8 September.
Like Michaelmas, Rosh Hashanah has religious significance as well as being connected to the seasons of the agricultural year. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the most important festivals in the Jewish calendar.
For Jews, Rosh Hashanah is a day of judgment and a time to ask God to forgive sins. God keeps a Book of Life in which the names are written of those who are sorry for their sins and who apologise to all those they have sinned against. On the first day of the year, God decides who will be forgiven. The final judgement is made on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Rosh Hashanah is a time of reflection for Jews to think about their lives and what is meaningful for them. Besides quiet reflection, Jews mark the festival by visiting the synagogue. Typically, at the synagogue during this period, the shofar (ram’s horn trumpet) will be blown a hundred times. The first sound of the shofar heralds the ten Days of Awe, which end with Yom Kippur.
The feast of Rosh Hashanah takes place after the service at the synagogue. The food eaten is symbolic and may include:
- Apples dipped in honey (symbolising a sweet New Year ahead)
- Challah bread (this circular loaf symbolises the circle of life and the circle of the year)
- Pomegranate (the 613 seeds that a pomegranate is believed to contain symbolises the commandments to which each Jew should adhere).
Other foods Jewish ancestors may have consumed at this time of year are chicken soup (Goldene yoichi), gefilte fish, poultry, chopped liver, teiglach (small, knotted pastries boiled in a honeyed syrup), helzel (stuffing), megren tzimmes (carrots glazed with honey), and honey cake.
Yom Kippur is marked by fasting, wearing white, and abstinence from bathing and sexual activity. Traditionally, five services will be held in the synagogue and much of the day is spent reflecting and praying for forgiveness. The day ends with a final blast from the shofar.
For future research, note that the library of the Jewish Genealogical Society for Great Britain (JGSGB) is held at the Society of Genealogists. For full details see the library page on the JGSGB website.
Jewish elder blowing the ram's horn (shofar) by Zoltan Kluger - This is available from National Photo Collection of Israel, Photography dept. Government Press Office (link), under the digital ID D827-015. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=68566715
Engle, F., Blair, G., The Jewish festival cookbook: according to the dietary laws (New York: D. Mckay Co, 1954)
Please contact Emma Jolly for more information about this article
As member you can make the most of our resources, access our experts and find a welcoming community of people interested in family history and genealogy.
We all have roots. Let’s find them together.