Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur

In the latest of our FAIR blog series, Tamara Nussbaum shares her experiences of the Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement.

FAIR is Buro Happold’s employee driven, inclusion and diversity group. FAIR stands for Fairness, Awareness, Inclusion & Respect.

Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur – Jewish New Year & Day of Atonement

Last week marked the start of the 5780th Jewish calendar year. The Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah – ‘the head of the year’) takes place over a two-day period and is filled with traditions that have been carried throughout the centuries of Jewish History. Rosh Hashanah is followed by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and is considered the most important day in the Jewish calendar.

Rosh Hashanah

The festival itself is focussed around synagogue each morning, followed by lunch with friends and family. For those who are familiar with Jewish traditions and customs, you will know this is nothing out of the ordinary, and that we gather with family and friends to share food at every opportunity. Similar to our weekly Sabbath Friday night dinners, the meal consists of the traditional platted bread, ‘Challah’, wine which we use to make a blessing over and chicken soup, followed by lots more food.

Synagogue Service

The Synagogue is a Jewish house of worship, similar to a Church, Mosque or Temple, and is attended on the Sabbath (Friday night and Saturday), Jewish holidays and, by some, daily. On Rosh Hashanah, during the synagogue service, a horn known as a ‘shofar’ is sounded. This is symbolic of waking us up to the fact that a new year has arrived, and with that, we should strive to improve on ourselves, and set our goals to ensure that the coming year is even better than the last.


During the two-day festival there is a strong emphasis on wishing people a ‘Happy and Sweet New Year’. We eat apple dipped in honey, taking the sweet apple and making it sweeter, to symbolise the year of sweetness that we hope to have. We also eat honey cake, just in case we haven’t already received a sufficient dose of sweetness! This is much like the saying ‘start the year as we mean to go on.’ 

A final tradition that is carried out is the ‘throwing away of our sins’, known as ‘Tashlich’. There is a custom by which we go to a running stream of water, and symbolically throw away the sins of the previous year, so that we are able to start the New Year with a clean slate.

Yom Kippur

Shortly after the New Year, comes the Day of Atonement, on which we focus on repenting and reflecting on how to improve the following year. On this day, in addition to fasting, we abstain from all materialistic items; technology, cosmetics and leather shoes. This is to remove all physical distractions in order to truly self-reflect and focus on what is important. There is also a tradition to wear white clothing to symbolise an angel, who has no physical needs.

We spend the day is in the synagogue, and during the service we are told that God weighs up our good deeds against the bad, to decide whether or not we should be inscribed in the book of life. This may all sound morbid, but the intention is that we are all given opportunity to reflect and repent, and start each year fresh and with intentions of improvement.

For those who celebrated, have a happy and sweet new year!

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