Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, begins tonight, and lasts for 2 days, until sundown on Tuesday night. The Jewish year follows the lunar calendar, and the the number counts the number of years since Creation. This year we will mark the beginning of 5773.
Rosh Hashana is not marked by great parties and merry-making for the Jewish New Year is also known as the Day of Judgement, the day when all humans are held accountable before Heaven for their good deeds and bad, and their fate for the coming year is decided. A good part of the two days of the festival is spent in emotional and uplifting prayers in the synagogue where we acclaim G-d as the King of Israel and as King of the whole universe, and where we ask Him to write us in the Book of Life, which remains open until Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) in 10 days time, giving us time to repent and atone for our sins.
The holiday is marked with the blowing of the Shofar (the ram’s horn), which is meant to literally sound an alarm to wake us up from our bad ways and return us to the righteous path. We also eat sweet foods to symbolise our wish for a sweet New Year. A classic staple at the Rosh Hashana table is the apple, which is round, symbolising the cycle of the year, dipped in honey for a sweet new year.
You can read more about the customs and traditions of Rosh Hashana at the link.
Despite all the doom and gloom stories about the danger from Iran, Israel’s fraying relations with the US and growing worldwide antisemitism, there are also many reasons to be thankful for this year’s blessings. This year, Israel’s population is nearing 8 million, something that a mere 64 years ago our founders would have had a hard time believing was possible.
Israel’s population is nearing 8 million, up almost 100,000 from the end of 2011, according to data released on the eve of Rosh Hashanah.
The Central Bureau of Statistics reported that the population of Israel stands at approximately 7,933,200; at the end of 2011 it was at 7.837 million.
The new figure includes approximately 5,978,600 Jews, or 75.4 percent of the population, and about 1,636,600 Arabs, or 20.6 percent. The 318,000 people categorized as “others” include 203,000 foreign workers, of whom some 60,000 are African migrants.
This year has also been a record year for tourism, with 3.5 million visitors to Israel, again, something the pioneers of 64 years ago could not have imagined.
Liat Collins in the Jerusalem Post has a great column for Rosh Hashana, telling us that despite our problems and our kvetching, “Don’t worry, be happy” (my empahases):
“It is important to note that most Israelis view the country’s future optimistically,” IDI professor Tamar Hermann, who oversees the project, told The Jerusalem Post’s Gil Hoffman. “Our national resilience rests heavily on the fact that even though people are negative on Friday evenings at their family dinner table and the zeitgeist is discouragement, when you scratch a little deeper, people are not really depressed here.”
Even the United Nations was forced to say something nice about Israel in its Human Development Index. In a report relating to 2011, Israel ranked a highly respectable 17th out of 187 countries. And you don’t need UN figures to see that in Israel’s case, the green seen on the neighbors’ side is that of Islamist flags, not luxuriant grass.
So, statistically, it’s difficult to figure out why we spend so much time complaining.
A Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) report published ahead of the Jewish New Year said Israel’s population is nearing the eight million mark (7,993,200, to be a bit more precise) with slightly more than 75% of its citizens identified as Jewish (a figure which probably accounts for much of the kvetching.) Perhaps complaining is good for us:Life expectancy, according to the CBS report, continues to increase, reaching 80 years for men and 83.6 years for women.
The milk occasionally tastes sour and the honey makes a sticky mess, but this is still a land of promise.
May I wish all my family, friends, and readers worldwide שנה טובה ומתוקה – Shana Tova Umetuka. A Happy and Sweet New Year. May we all be blessed with a year of good health, joy, prosperity and peace. May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life.
תכלה שנה וקללותיה, תחל שנה וברכותיה
Let the current year and its curses be over, let the new year and its blessings begin.