Rosh Hashana

Rosh Hashana in Jerusalem

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Photo: Miriam Woelke

B”H
Next Sunday night is the first night of Rosh Hashana. According to the Jewish calendar, we are entering the year 5777. Sunday will be like a Friday in Jerusalem. Meaning that shops will be open until 4 pm or so. Public bus transportation is due to stop at around the same time. The high holiday lasts for two days and everything will remain closed until Tuesday night.
Tourists staying in Jerusalem and are looking for shopping opportunities: You can either go to the Muslim, Armenian or Christian Quarters of the Old City in Jerusalem. Or people can buy groceries at the 24 hour stores located all over Jerusalem.
Rosh Hashana is a serious Jewish holiday where G – d judges the entire world. Most Gentiles are not aware of the fact that this holiday also concerns them, as all humans are being judged for another year. How will our life be? Are we healthy or sick? Are we going to live or die? Are we going to be successful? Will there be wars or nature catastrophes? G – d will judge our entire planet and each one of us.
On Rosh Hashana, Jews spend most of the time in the synagogues. Especially the morning prayer Shacharit is very long and can last from 7 am – 1.30 pm. The greatest Mitzvah is to hear the Shofar (rams horn). It is blown during Shacharit.
One of the Shofar’s tasks is to wake up every Jew and cause him to do Teshuva (Repentance). He should start a Torah Mitzvot life and strive for a closer relationship with G – d. Gentiles should keep the Seven Noachide Laws.  
The Jewish new year has nothing in common with the worldly new year on 1st January. It is not about getting drunk and fireworks. 🙂
What we eat on Rosh Hashana is honey cake and a lot of honey because we all want the new year to be sweet and pleasant. There will be a Seder on the first and the second night of the holiday. It is a bit similar to the Pessach Seder because we eat certain fruits in a special order. At the end we eat a fish or sheep’s head because we want to be at the beginning of something and not at the end. However, most people I know, including myself, don’t touch the heads but just look at them. Sometimes people don’t even look. 🙂
If you are planning to go to a synagogue in Jerusalem:
Most synagogues usually sell tickets before the high holidays. Meaning for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. If you don’t have a ticket, you may not be allowed to enter. If you do enter, be prepared that you won’t find a seat. Most chassidic groups only allow in their own members. However, Chabad accepts every Jew but be aware that you may end up standing because synagogues will be packed.In case you are staying at a hotel: The big hotels have their own synagogue.
What else can you do in Jerusalem?
You can go to the Western Wall (Kotel) and pray with a Minyan. Women can pray with a Minyan when they stand near the Mechitza (gender separation). They are able to listen to a Minyan on the men’s side.
Don’t expect too much going on at the Kotel. Especially not on the first night of Rosh Hashana. Most Jews pray at their synagogues and it won’t be too busy at the Wall. 
It is customary not to sleep during the day on Rosh Hashana. However, there are opinions stating that people can have an afternoon nap on the second day. G – d is judging the world and we don’t want to be sleeping while he is looking at us. 🙂 Instead, each of us wants to make an impression.
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