When the sun sets Wednesday evening, Jewish people around the world will gather around the table, dip apples into honey, pass around familiar Jewish dishes and discuss the year past and the one ahead. On Thursday morning, we will wearily trek to synagogue and be jolted awake by the exhilarating blows of the shofar, a ram’s horn, and when we can’t bear to sit still any longer, finally congregate in the halls, reconnecting with friends and family.
On Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, we do as Jews have always done.
When we dip an apple into honey, we symbolize our hopes for a sweet new year, and when we listen to the sound of the shofar, we recall great moments in Jewish history. These ceremonial traditions are elevated to a spiritual level when practiced in unison with Jews around the world — connecting us to generations before us who celebrated Rosh Hashana in the same way.
Steven Sotloff, the American-Israeli journalist brutally killed by ISIS this month, demonstrated the powerful pull of this connection. Though Sotloff concealed his Jewish faith from his captors, on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar in which Jews atone for the past year, Sotloff feigned sickness to fast alongside Jews around the world.
During the darkest hours of Jewish history, through slavery, an inquisition, a Holocaust and numerous exiles, Jewish resolve has survived because of the insistent practice of such traditions.
If for no other reason than the school-excused absence, I invite all of UT’s approximately 4,000 Jewish students to share in this tradition and attend a meal or service at Texas Hillel, a Jewish student organization, or the Chabad Jewish Student Center this week. Rosh Hashana begins at sundown Wednesday, September 24, ending on Friday, September 26. For those who celebrate, Texas Hillel and Chabad at UT have dinner and service options throughout the two-day holiday, available on their websites at http://www.texashillel.org/ and http://www.jewishlonghorns.com/.
On Rosh Hashana, we make a blessing over the apple dipped in honey.
On Rosh Hashana, we reflect.
“Rosh Hashana is a time for self-introspection and not only fixing up our negative traits and actions, but perhaps more importantly focusing on the positive things we have accomplished,” said Rabbi Zev Johnson of Chabad at UT. “Then, we ask ourselves how are we going to accomplish even more in this upcoming year?”
As Jews face Jerusalem to pray from every corner of the earth, we will reflect on what this day might have been. This summer, Israel uncovered a massive attack planned for Rosh Hashana by Hamas to send terrorists through the approximately 30 tunnels uncovered by Israeli troops into southern Israeli communities to kidnap and kill as many Israelis as possible. These terror tunnels were destroyed during the 50-day-long Operation Protective Edge.
Fighting between Israel and its neighbors has become the latest excuse for the resurgence of the oldest disease in the world. Manifesting itself on college campuses including even our own University, anti-Semitism hides beneath a deceivingly thin disguise of anti-Zionist activity. Joining fellow Jews in celebration of the new year is a riposte against the rising threats that face Israel and Jewish communities around the world.
Tamar Solomon, an architectural engineering freshman from New York, expressed this feeling.
“Though I look forward to celebrating this holiday with ‘Texas style’ and new friends, I look backward to remind myself of the miracles that have happened this year,” Solomon said. “That what had occurred in Israel this past summer was not for naught, that the horrific events and the sacrifice of lives were to keep thousands safe this holiday.”
Rabbi Daniel Septimus, executive director of Texas Hillel, said that Rosh Hashana is a time for the Jewish community to express its unity.
“During the recent conflict in Gaza over the summer, the Jewish community united together in support of Israel’s right to defend itself,” Septimus said. “Despite this recent challenge, and the many, many others we have experienced throughout our history, the Jewish people, both in and outside of Israel, remain very much alive and vibrant.”
On Rosh Hashana, we hope to put the adversity of the past behind us, and instead look ahead, turning reflection into inspiration for the year to come.
Frydberg is a Middle Eastern studies, journalism and liberal arts honors senior from San Antonio.