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Preparing to celebrate the world’s birthday

The many names of Rosh Hashanah and the opportunity to celebrate it as a Jewish Earth Day.

Blog post by Rachel Smith-Savaya, Director of International Partnerships

It has been said that the more words a language has for one ‘thing’ the more important it is to those who speak that language. Similarly, in Judaism there are often several names for a chag (festival or holiday), with each name shedding light on a different aspect of it.

The upcoming holiday of Rosh Hashanah – רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה (lit. Head of the Year) is no different. The name Yom Tru’ah – יוֹם תָּרוּעַ (Day of Blowing the Shofar) refers to a central symbol and instrument of the holiday. The shofar – ram’s horn – which was biblically used to signal the imminent start of Shabbat, announce a new moon (important before a calendar was set) or proclaim a new king, could today be compared to an alarm clock. It is sounded to serve as a wake up call for the opportunity ahead of us as the new year begins, to contemplate our actions and to consider how we approach this time.

A third name for the holiday is Yom HaDin – יוֹם הַדִּין (the Day of Judgement), and traditional Rosh Hashanah liturgy explains how the scales of justice are brought out and our behavior – the good and the bad – is weighed up. (Our excellent lawyers can tell you all about din (judgement), which as part of our organization’s name, is central to how we work.) Perhaps for this reason the holiday is also known as Yom HaZikaron – יוֹם הַזִּכָּרוֹן (Remembrance Day – not to be confused with the modern Israeli Memorial Day for soldiers and victims of terror). The hope is that our good actions and choices will be remembered and outweigh the bad.

Traditional Rosh Hashanah liturgy also refers to the holiday as Hayom Harat Olam – הַיּוֹם הֲרַת עוֹלָם, which loosely translates as ‘the birthday of the world’. Many birthday parties include cake and gifts, and why should this holiday be any different? Be it the traditional honey cake (for a sweet New Year) or any other flavor, sitting together to eat is a great way to help the conversation start or keep it flowing.

Whether you connect with the other names of the holiday or not, this last one really resonates with my family and definitely my young children. We started a tradition a few years ago of baking and decorating a birthday cake for the world. At some point on Rosh Hashanah we sing all our favorite birthday songs and as we enjoy the cake, think of what gifts we can give the world this year; how can we take better care of it? Invest in it? Help it so that it can continue to keep us safe and provided for. In an age of climate crisis – where globally the effects are starting to be felt – now more than ever is a time to start taking better care of our planet. Rosh Hashanah is a great opportunity for new year’s resolutions that benefit us all by benefiting our planet. Because there is no planet B.

Shanah tova message from Adam Teva V'Din, wishing you a year full of peace, prosperity, health and success
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Rosh Hashanah is a great opportunity for new year’s resolutions that benefit us all by benefiting our planet. Because there is no planet B.

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