Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the Jewish Year. According to Jewish tradition, it is the day GOD created Adam and Eve. It is also the day GOD determines the fate of every one of us for the upcoming year. Will we become rich? Will we stay strong and healthy? Or is our fate doomed to poverty and illness? But luckily, GOD seals our fate only ten days later, on Yom Kippur. So, we have time to think about what we have done. If we’ve done something wrong, we can promise to behave better. Then, GOD might change his mind and give us a second chance.
If you’re planning to visit Israel on Rosh Hashanah, I’ve gathered 5 ways to celebrate Rosh Hashanah in Israel. Just keep in mind that public transportation does not operate during the holiday, which lasts two days. Also, most shops and places are closed.
Recommended read >> Holidays in Israel and How to Spend Them During Travel.
When is Rosh Hashanah celebrated?
This year (2023), Rosh Hashanah will begin at sundown on September 15 and end at nightfall on September 17. Every year, the date is slightly different. That’s because we celebrate our holidays according to the Hebrew calendar, which is different from the widely used Gregorian calendar. The first day of the Hebrew year is the 1st of Tishrei. Usually, this day falls either in September or October.
5 ways to celebrate Rosh Hashanah in Israel
Hear the blowing of the shofar
In the Bible, Rosh Hashanah is called “the day of blasting.” That’s why Jews are obligated to hear the blowing – or blasting – of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. A shofar is a horn of a kosher animal, usually a ram, used as a trumpet on special occasions.
At the start of the COVID pandemic, many people couldn’t leave their houses because of quarantine. We were at home too at that time. Then, I remember hearing someone shouting from the street: “Who needs to hear the shofar? Who here is in quarantine?” Some people shouted back at him: “Here, here.” And then he blasted the shofar a few times. So, you see, hearing the shofar blowing is very important in Judaism.
The Bible doesn’t tell us why we need to hear the blasting of the shofar. But some people have tried to explain. Some say that the blast is meant to awaken our souls, to stir the heart. This way, we’ll be able to think better about what we’ve done and what we would like to do from now on. Others say it is meant to humble us and fill us with awe before GOD.
If you want to hear the shofar blast as well, look for a nearby synagogue and go early in the morning. Usually, the shofar is blown during the morning service, after reading part of the Torah, the five first books of the Bible. But you might be able to hear it throughout the day, too. If the first day of Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat, the shofar will not be blown on that day. Instead, it will be blown on Sunday.
Drink freshly squeezed pomegranate juice
Almost every Jewish holiday is connected to some traditional food. On Rosh Hashanah, one of the most popular food items is the pomegranate. A few days or even weeks before Rosh Hashanah, you’ll see pomegranates all over the marketplaces. Ask the vendors if they can make freshly squeezed pomegranate juice for you. Those who like pomegranates love it!
The pomegranates are known as one of the “seven species of the Land of Israel.” In Jewish tradition, it symbolizes righteousness, wisdom, and knowledge. One blessing that many bless during Rosh Hashanah is: “May we be full of merits like the pomegranate.” That’s because the pomegranate is FULL of seeds. It is said to have 613 seeds, like the number of 613 commandments of the Torah. So, don’t miss the opportunity to get these merits ;-).
Keep in mind that most markets will be closed during Rosh Hashanah itself. So, try getting that cup of pomegranate juice right before or right after the holiday.
Taste Israeli honey
Another thing we love to eat on Rosh Hashanah is an apple in honey. We slice a red apple, dip it in honey, and say: “May we have a sweet year ahead.” One of the main reasons we eat the apple is because of its sweetness. Together with the sweetness of the honey, we hope for an ultra-sweet year ahead. But instead of sending you to apple orchards, I want to recommend a visit to an apiary, where bees and people make honey.
There are many apiaries all over Israel, from the north to the south. Some of them offer special tours just before Rosh Hashanah as part of the holiday spirit. But even if they don’t, I recommend visiting their store, tasting, and purchasing some Israeli-made honey. There are many types to taste, including classic wildflower honey, avocado honey, carob honey, and more.
I’ve been to Meshek Ofir near Alon HaGalil in Lower Galilee and really enjoyed the honey tasting there. But one of the most popular honey brands in Israel is Yad Mordechai. You’ll find its honey almost in every supermarket. You can also visit its visitor center in Kibbutz Yad Mordechai near Ashkelon. But if you want to taste honey in a truly surreal place, head to the desert landscape of the Arava and visit Porat Farm in Ein Yahav. No matter where you choose to go, it’ll be a great start for the Jewish year!
Go to a beach to watch the Tashlich
Tashlich is one of the main customs of Rosh Hashanah. It means “throw away.” On the first afternoon of the holiday, people go to a body of water and perform this special ceremony. It could be any body of water – a river, a pond, an ocean, and so on. If you want to witness this ceremony, the best place you can go is the sea. I can’t guarantee you’ll see it, but it’s certainly possible. If you’re in a city, people might also be performing the Tashlich next to one of the city’s fountains. So, you can check over there, too.
During the ceremony, people symbolically cast their sins into the water, evoking the verse: “And You shall cast their sins into the depths of the sea.” They first say the prayer. Then, they shake their pockets or the hem of their clothes above the water and empty their sins. If there are fish in the area, they might also throw some crumbs into the water because fish are a sign of blessing.
If Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat, the Tashlich will be done on Sunday.
Go look for Urginea Maritima
Many Jewish holidays are connected to a specific season. Rosh Hashanah is one of the holidays that mark the beginning of the fall. Another thing that marks the beginning of the fall is the Urginea Maritima, a common plant in Israel. The plant starts blooming at the end of summer. In Naomi Shemer’s famous song, “On Rosh Hashanah,” she wrote: “On Rosh Hashanah, a Urginea Maritima turns on in the field like a memorial candle.” Believe me, it sounds much better in Hebrew!
If you like nature, there’s plenty of it in Israel. Rent a car and go look for Urginea Maritima. They should already be blooming at this time of the year. Here are some places that have a large concentration of Urginea Maritima:
- Tel Yodfat in the Lower Galilee. This site is also worth visiting because it was the site of one of the first battles during the First Jewish-Roman War.
- The Bible Hill in Jerusalem. If you’re already in Jerusalem and don’t want to wander too far, you can find a bit of nature near the First Station. There’s a short but steep climb from David Remez Street in front of the First Station. You can also enjoy a nice view of the surroundings from up there.
- Horvat Karta near Atlit. There’s a short trail that goes up to a hill overlooking the Coastal Plain. At the top, there are many Urginea Maritima and also ruins of a Crusader-era fortress.
Here you can see a nice video of the Urginea Maritima plants at Tel Yodfat, taken by Yermi Ben Tzvi:
Rosh Hashanah is a wonderful holiday that fuels us with new energy for the upcoming year. Besides the 5 ways mentioned, try to join a local family for their Rosh Hashanah seder. It might be difficult to find, but if you happen to stumble upon a local feast, it’s the best way to experience the holiday.
Have a nice holiday in Israel!
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