Jewish New Year VS. Civil New Year – A comparison

As January 1 is rapidly approaching, it got me thinking about the differences between the way the Jewish New Year is celebrated vs. the way the world celebrates (will celebrate when Covid is a non-issue). There are not only differences mind you, but also a couple of similarities as well.

DIFFERENCES

The first striking difference would be the way we celebrate. Both New Year’s are celebratory, but the way we go about it is so different.

CIVIL CELEBRATION

  1. The New Year’s Eve parties are legendary all over the world. From Times Square to Trafalgar Square, from Melbourne, Australia to Melbourne, Florida and from Goshen, CT to Goshen in Egypt, champagne flows freely and there is literally dancing in the streets. Shouts of cheer and annoying horns, clappers and other noisemakers abound. People congregate in the thousands to dance, frolic and hug each other at the stroke of midnight.
  2. Many sing the Scottish song “Auld Lang Syne” at midnight essentially saying GOODBYE to the previous year.
  3. Chances are one gets up late that day and attempts to recover from a hangover.

JEWISH CELEBRATION

  1. While it is true that Rosh Hashanah is a festive holiday, it is also an extremely sobering time as we pause from the daily grind and congregate in synagogue as an extended family, and we implore the master of the world to grant us health and a joyous year. The blessings over wine are made and champagne is optional but rarely used. One thing I can tell you, since the next day is an extended day in synagogue, one with a serious undertone combined with haunting emotional chants from the cantor, you will not find any temple-going Jew awake at midnight.
  2. Jews sing Avinu Malkeinu/Our father and King asking God for help this coming year, essentially WELCOMING in the new year. Did you know that in the Hebrew language there is no dedicated word for goodbye?
  3. We get up early to get the best seat in the synagogue and try to read the Book of Psalms before services begin.

SIMILARITIES

Truth be told, there are a number of similarities between the two.

CIVIL CELEBRATION

  1. It is a time of new resolutions. Be kinder, lose weight, get to bed on time and go to the gym.
  2. It is an extremely festive time to be shared with family and friends.
  3. Many cultures make sure to wear white on New Year’s Day.
  4. In Northern Europe there is a custom to smash a plate for good luck.
  5. Because of Covid this year, there are different and new ideas being floated around and one of them is to make a charcuterie board with deli meats and interesting breads such as sourdough and banana bread.

JEWISH CELEBRATION

  1. It is a time for new resolutions. Be kinder, more spiritual, and more charitable, lose weight, get to bed earlier than in the past and exercise.
  2. It is an extremely festive time to be shared with family and friends. In fact, it is taught that on Rosh Hashanah, one should have both emotions at the same time — somber that God is listening intently and happily confident that all will be well, because God is listening. The emotion of sadness or melancholy is not tolerated and is detrimental to one’s prayers.
  3. The cantor dons a white coat called a kittel as a sign of purity, as he has been chosen to represent the masses.
  4. Never try this in a Jewish home, as waste is a no no. Interesting to note however, if a glass or plate does get broken, everyone will shout simultaneously Mazal Tov – good luck.
  5. I don’t think banana bread will be eaten by me any time soon, but on Rosh Hashanah, we do feature interesting breads such as round challahs with either raisins or chocolate chips. Some put in spiced apple slices.

Regardless of similarities or differences, all people from all over share the common wish of peace, health, financial security and a safe environment.

God bless.

Please feel free to share.

About the Author
Rabbi Yakov Saacks is the founder and director of The Chai Center, Dix Hills, NY. The Chai Center has been nicknamed by some as New York's most Unorthodox Orthodox Center.
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