Rosh Hashanah 101

A recent conversation with an old friend (since we were 11 years old) is inspiring me to write this post.  This is a dear friend who was planning an event that was going to land on “Erev Rosh Hashanah” — which is the night before Rosh Hashanah (actually holiday officially begins at sundown.)  One of the people invited to attend the event requested the date be changed in observance of the holiday.
My friend (who is Christian) wondered: “…[is scheduling the event on this day] a matter of inconvenience or disrespect?  She went on to say,  “I certainly do not want to be disrespectful or exclusionary. I am getting the sense from your response that I am bordering on the latter.”
So what was my response?  What is Rosh Hashanah?  Why is it so important?  For those of us who don’t do the Jesus thing– this holiday is a kind of come-to-Jesus experience.  I explained:

“Rosh means “head,” Hashana means “of the year.” Celebration of the Jewish New Year– birth of our consciousness of the world. It is similar to Christmas in terms of the level of imporance for us.  There is often dinner with family, followed by temple at night and the next two days. Then there’s 10 days of introspection, intention setting for the year, apologies if need be– until the close of the high holydays on Yom Kippur. Here’s a little more:”



I went on to explain: “It’s no joke— this really is the most religious time on the calendar. The only other holiday that compares in terms of importance is Passover— which is usually right around Easter.


High Holydays and specifically Rosh Hashanah kicks off the entire spiritual year. We are purposeful and deep in our prayers. We really do thank God for all of our blessings and for all of creation. We pray deep for forgiveness. We think hard about our mortality— how short life can be— and what we really are here for. We gather the courage and strength to tell people that have hurt us, just how we feel— with the intention of clearing the air.


We apologize in a specific way for what we have done.  Not “sorry if I hurt you” but “I’m sorry that when I started this new job (for example) and am working more hours, I didn’t make time for us. I will do better this year. Will you forgive me?” We wonder, ask God and our selves— what’s our purpose as individuals, as a family, as a friend? It is so holy— and effective. This is NOT a casual holiday.”



But there’s more–  don’t forget the giving.  Giving to the poor– balancing the scales– Tzedakah in Hebrew – creating “Justice” is one of the most important parts of being truely grateful for what you have and committing yourself to bettering the world, loving kindness and returning your soul to a pure state.



As for a family tradition. Every year I make my grandmother’s recipe for honey cake that she remembered from her childhood in Poland— from before the Holocaust. It’s below— just in case you want to give it a try. It’s great with tea. Honey is traditional because it symbolizes a sweet year.



Finally, it is appropriate to say “Happy New Year” or “L’Shana Tova” for Rosh Hashanah, and wish someone “an easy fast” for Yom Kippur— when we go entirely without food or water for one day.

Let me finish by saying– anyone can do this at any time– regardless of your given faith (or lack of it.)  This is just a special time on the calendar carved out to make sure we check in.  (And– by the way, it correlates to the new moon.)  Please– if you want, come join us in gratitude, awe, and introspection.  Ask the hard questions, do the internal spiritual work.  It really is a wonderful gift to have these holidays– I mean holydays.



With Love always,

Grandma Mary Kleinhandler’s Famous Honey Cake:


3 Cups of Flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

2 tsp cocoa or instant coffee

1 tsp salt

1 cup sugar

1 cup honey

4 eggs

1/2 cup water or orange juice

1 orange grated (I cut the top and bottom off and grate most of it– skin, seeds everything!)

1 1/4 cup oil

*Add raisins, shredded carrots, or dates– optional

Mix dry ingredients until there are no streaks.  In a separate large bowl blend the wet ingredients.  Slowly add the dry  mixture to the wet.  Blend well.  

If you are using a round pan with a removable bottom, line it with waxed paper.  Otherwise grease a bundt cake pan.

Bake at 350 for 55 minutes.  Cool and remove from cake pan.






















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