High Holy Days - Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

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Rosh Hashanah

The High Holy Days  or "Days of Awe" include the two days of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). However, the High Holy Day  period begins about a month before Rosh Hashanah on the first day of the month of Elul and extends for a forty day period through Yom Kippur. The focus of this entire period is on repentance. It is meant to be a time of self-examination, recognition of sins, the asking of forgiveness and personal growth. The culmination of the High Holy Day period occurs during the Ten Days of Repentance which begins with Rosh Hashanah and ends with Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year commemorating God's creation of the world and the Day of Judgment when those who choose to forego sin are inscribed in a symbolic “book of life”.  On the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, it is customary to perform the ritual of Tashlich. In this ritual we cast bread into a body of water (the Atlantic Ocean) symbolically throwing away our sins and beginning afresh.

Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur is the pinnacle of the ten day period and it is customary to fast and abstain from everyday activities. The evening before Yom Kippur is known as "Kol Nidre" from one of the main prayers. The Day of Atonement is the time when it is imagined that God seals the books of life and death. Most Jews spend this solemn day in services profuse with heartrending poems and prayers expressing themes of repentance, human imperfection and humility before God. Common rituals include the blowing of the shofar.

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