Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, is one of the most important and highly anticipated festivals in the Jewish calendar and it can be a fascinating time to visit Jerusalem.
Rosh Hashanah, which literally means the head of the year, takes place over the course of two consecutive days, the first and second days of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, which usually come out around September.
Like many other Jewish festivals, its customs center around the synagogue and home, where large festive meals are prepared for family and friends.
In the lead up to the festival, you are likely to see round challah (braided sweet bread) in many Jerusalem bakeries. The round shape symbolizes the yearly cycle and the circle of life. You are also likely to find honey cake in many bakeries, as sweet foods such as honey have come to symbolize hopes for a “sweet new year.”
Be sure to sample some honey cake and purchase some honey to dip apple into – a widespread Jewish custom this time of year. It is also customary to eat fruit, such as pomegranates, that have not yet been eaten during the season.
On the Jewish new year many hours are spent in synagogues around the city, and the city’s shops close, creating a peaceful and tranquil atmosphere, an obvious contrast to regular days when Jerusalem bustles with activity.
Walk down to the Western Wall (Kotel) to see thousands of people congregating for special prayers. You may even get to hear the shofar (ram’s horn) blown, a central part of the prayer services on Rosh Hashanah.
And, if you like, try wishing people “Shanah tovah,” which means “Have a good year” in Hebrew.