29 September 2019

‘I repent better in the waning
season when … all creatures
look keenly about them’

The symbolic foods that are part of Rosh Hashanah traditions include pomegranates and apples … Rosh Hashanah begins tonight (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

In this season of the Jewish High Holy Days, I have begun a series of blog postings on the synagogues of Dublin.

The Jewish High Holy Days this year begin this evening. Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown this evening [29 September] and ends at sundown on Tuesday [1 October 2019]. For some Jews who observe only one day, it ends at sundown tomorrow [30 September].

Rosh Hashanah (רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה), literally the ‘head of the year,’ is the Jewish New Year and a time of inner renewal and divine atonement. The Biblical name is Yom Teruah (יוֹם תְּרוּעָה), which literally translates as the ‘day of shouting or blasting.’

The customs associated with Rosh Hashanah include attending the High Holy Day services in synagogues, when the shofar, a cleaned-out ram’s horn, is sounded, and reciting a special liturgy about teshuva, akin to repentance. Many people go to a repentance or Tashlich service where they throw breadcrumbs or pebbles into running water as a symbol of casting away their sins.

On the second night of Rosh Hashanah, it is customary to eat a new fruit, a symbol of newness. The symbolic foods that have become traditional include pomegranates and apples dipped in honey, hoping to evoke a sweet new year.

This day is also seen as a traditional anniversary of the creation of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve.

A traditional greeting during this holiday is Shanah Tovah, which translates from Hebrew to English as ‘Good New Year.’

On Rosh Hashanah, religious poems, called piyyutim, are added to the regular synagogue services. A special prayer book, the mahzor, is used on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and a number of additions are made to the regular service, when the Shofar is blown at several intervals.

The late year, by Marge Piercy

I like Rosh Hashanah late,
when the leaves are half burnt
umber and scarlet, when sunset
marks the horizon with slow fire
and the black silhouettes
of migrating birds perch
on the wires davening.

I like Rosh Hashanah late
when all living are counting
their days toward death
or sleep or the putting by
of what will sustain them—
when the cold whose tendrils
translucent as a jellyfish

and with a hidden sting
just brush our faces
at twilight. The threat
of frost, a premonition
a warning, a whisper
whose words we cannot
yet decipher but will.

I repent better in the waning
season when the blood
runs swiftly and all creatures
look keenly about them
for quickening danger.
Then I study the rockface
of my life, its granite pitted

and pocked and pickaxed
eroded, discoloured by sun
and wind and rain—
my rock emerging
from the veil of greenery
to be mapped, to be
examined, to be judged.

‘Rosh Hashanah Table’ … a ceramic glazed tile (20x30x1.5 cm) by Joel Itman, featured for Rosh Hashanah and September 2019 in a Jewish Art Calendar published in Italy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Marge Piercy, ‘The Late Year’ from The Crooked Inheritance. Copyright © 2006 by Marge Piercy.

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