By Robert Cohen, Senior Communication Manager

This evening marks the start of Rosh Hashanah which is the Jewish New Year.

From sunset, the two-day festival begins, where traditionally a lot of time is spent in prayer at the Synagogue. This year, things will be slightly different because of coronavirus with many communities around the country finding innovative and safe ways to mark the festival together, some in person and some virtually. I’ll be joining live streamed services being hosted by Sinai Synagogue in Leeds.

A feature of the Rosh Hashanah services is the blowing of a Shofar (ram’s horn) and this year is thought to be the first time ever that the UK government has issued guidance on how this should be done to minimise coronavirus risks. We certainly live in strange times!

Rosh Hashanah is the start of one of the most significant periods in the Jewish spiritual calendar, known as the ‘High Holidays’, which culminates 10 days later with Yom Kippur. It’s a period of personal and collective reflection, a time when we ask others, and God, for forgiveness, and when we look to return ourselves to a more spiritual and ethical path.

Jewish tradition tells how God balances a person’s good deeds over the last year against their bad deeds, and decides what the next year will be like for them. The rabbis of old, wrote how God records his judgement on us in the Book of Life, where he sets out who’s going to live, who’s going to die, who’ll have a good time and who’ll have a bad time during the next year. If you’re familiar with the Leonard Cohen song ‘Who By Fire’, you may be interested to know it’s based on High Holiday Jewish liturgy. The Book, and the judgements, are said to be finally sealed on Yom Kippur – the day of atonement.

Time with loved ones is a really important part of Rosh Hashanah and I’ll be celebrating with my family this weekend. There are a few traditional foods that I’m looking forward to enjoying including Challah which is a traditional bread that is round at Rosh Hashanah to symbolise the eternal cycle of life. Apples are also a key ingredient over the festival, as is honey which many foods are dipped in as a symbol of a sweet new year that we’re all hoping for.

L’shanah tovah or Happy New Year to all of my Jewish colleagues at Co-op.