yom kippur

The Jewish High Holy Days Explained

Rabbi Neal Surasky of Chosen People Ministries in New York blows the shofar. Photo via Adelle M. Banks/RNS.

Happy 5775! At sundown on Sept. 24, Jews around the world will turn the page on the Jewish calendar to begin the new year, Rosh Hashanah. What starts with a feast at home will end 10 days later with a fast in the synagogue on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This time is referred to as “The Days of Awe” as Jews move between repentance and forgiveness, reflection and renewal.

Here’s everything goyim need to know about the High Holy Days so they can holler “L’shanah tovah!” — or “Happy New Year!” — without looking like a shmendrick.

Q: What do Jews celebrate on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?

A: The new year is celebrated with family and friends, but Jews are also expected to think about the meaning and direction of their lives. How could they have been better Jews? Better human beings? That comes full circle on Yom Kippur, when Jews fast for a whole day and reflect on their faults and the ways they have wronged people throughout the year. It is a holiday for making amends, for seeking and giving forgiveness.

Q: Well, ain’t that a party? Sign me up. KIDDING!

Rabbis Push Congress on Immigration Reform

In the midst of the Jewish holiday season, more than 1,200 rabbis and cantors have urged Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

“We thought it was a particularly good time to speak out as rabbis and cantors on this issue that really speaks to us as Americans and as Jews,” said Barbara Weinstein, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the Reform movement’s Washington office that coordinated the effort.

“For centuries, Jews were guests in others’ lands and not always treated well.”

Another Way for Jews to Atone This Yom Kippur: The eScapegoat

The eScapegoat, an online creation of a San-Francisco non-profit to help people

The eScapegoat, an online creation of a San-Francisco non-profit to help people get ready for Yom Kippur. Image via G-dcast.

The weeks leading up to the Jewish High Holy Days are supposed to be marked by self-questioning: What failings must I atone for, and to whom must I apologize?

A group of artists, writers and animators are hoping a cartoon goat may help.

They call it the eScapegoat, and it’s supposed to approximate the original scapegoat, described in Leviticus as an important player in the atonement ritual of the ancient Israelites, who symbolically placed their sins upon the animal and sent it into the wilderness.