Jews call the period that begins with Rosh Hashana and ends with Yom Kippur the “High Holidays”, because it’s supposed to be the most important period of the Jewish calendar from a religious standpoint. It’s the time when even the most secular of Jews attend synagogue.
Not me, though.
I remember dabbling in synagogue in my childhood, but now I make it a point not to set foot inside one unless it’s for someone else’s sake. And personally, I don’t know how people who do go can stand it. For one thing, it’s expensive, at least if you live in the Diaspora. Here in Canada, the High Holidays is when the synagogues hit you with their membership fees, which are usually a small fortune. I honestly don’t understand why people would pay thousands of dollars when they only attend a few services during the High Holidays. It just doesn’t make sense to me.
And as if the synagogue membership fees aren’t bad enough, there’s also all the other inconveniences that come with attending services during this time of year — the overcrowding, the repetitive prayers, the endless getting up and sitting down, the rabbis who just want to hear themselves talk forever, and of course the boredom.
Okay, so going to synagogue during the High Holidays is a drag, but there are good things about the High Holidays too, right? Meh, sort of. It’s a time for family togetherness, which I think is a very good thing. But other than that, I don’t really view this time of year as a time of joy. Now just to be fair, Yom Kippur was never meant to be a joyous occasion, but rather the time we ask forgiveness from the Almighty for our sins.
Someone should explain to me, however, why Rosh Hashana has to be so somber. Indeed, if you’re Jewish and your Rosh Hashana is anything like it is for members of my extended family here in Canada, it consists simply of a family dinner and synagogue. This is a far cry from the way most people in the world celebrate New Year’s Eve on December 31st. Fireworks, parties and so forth. It’s unfortunate that the most festive thing we Jews do for our new year is dip apples in honey. Wow, big whoop. I would personally love to see fireworks light up the sky all over Israel on Rosh Hashana. But instead, I keep hearing stories about Israelis packing the airport to leave for the High Holidays because they want to be in a happier place.