The Jewish festival of Rosh Hashana
To explore the roots and meaning of the festival, and the themes of the Jewish new year.
by Caroline Donne
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
Date varies from year to year - please check the REonline Festivals Calendar.
- To explore the roots and meaning of the festival, and the themes of the Jewish new year.
- To think about new beginnings and the effects our actions have on others.
The festival of Rosh Hashana celebrates the beginning of the Jewish new year. It has three themes, which are woven together: celebrating the creation of the world and God as creator of the world; reflecting on behaviour, for which people will be judged by God; the relationship of God with the Jewish people. It roughly coincides with the start of the school year but see the REonline Festivals Calendar for exact dates each year.
Preparation and materials
- Bowls, some containing apple chunks and others containing honey. Some volunteers to distribute the apples and honey during or after the assembly.
- A Rosh Hashana greetings card (available from large newsagents).
- If possible, contact your nearest RE centre and see if you can borrow a Shofar (an instrument, usually a ram’s horn), which is blown at religious services during Rosh Hashana.
- Explain that for Jewish people, this is the beginning of a new year. They call it Rosh Hashana. It’s a time to celebrate and it’s a time to think about some important things. Often they wear new clothes or their best clothes. They send cards to one another. They eat special food, for example apples dipped in honey, because they hope the new year will be filled with good and sweet things.
You could pass the bowls around at this point, or if this threatens to be too disruptive then dip a piece of apple in the honey and eat it, and explain that there will be bowls of apple and honey to taste on the way out of the assembly, if you’re providing these.
- Tell the following story:
Abraham, Sarah and Isaac. During the religious services of Rosh Hashana, the story is told of the birth of Isaac and the obedience of his father Abraham, who prepares to follow God’s instructions and sacrifice his son (Genesis 21—22). The latter part of this story is difficult for a short assembly and needs some background explanation. It is suggested that the first part of the story in Genesis 21 is told. This is the story of Abraham and Sarah longing for a child and God’s promise to give Abraham a son and make Abraham father of a great nation, finishing with the birth of Isaac and the joy of Sarah and Abraham.
Explain that, for Sarah and Abraham, the birth of Isaac was a wonderful new beginning. It was the beginning of a new life. Explain also that even though they had waited so long and had almost given up expecting a baby, God kept his promise and Isaac was born.
Go on to explain that at Rosh Hashana Jewish people celebrate the belief that God is faithful and cares for them.
- Rosh Hashana is also a time when Jewish people think about the effect that their actions have on others. Use this as a way in for students to think about the effect their behaviour has on others. Think of examples together. Perhaps some are good at making people laugh. Perhaps some are friendly, helping to make someone who is lonely feel better. Perhaps some find it easy to say, or do, unkind things, and that makes people sad.
Explain that at Rosh Hashana Jewish people think about their actions in the same way, and they think about how God sees what they do. They believe that God wants them to do good things. This is the time when they can say sorry, to God and to others, and try to put right the things that they have done wrong. Go on to suggest that students might like to use time today to put right something they know they have done wrong.
Time for reflection
At Rosh Hashana, Psalm 27 is said. Below is an adaptation of the first verse of this psalm. You might like to read it and ask the students to think about the words during a moment of quiet.
God is like a light in the darkness and he saves me.
So I need not be afraid.
God is like a safe place.
So I need not be afraid.
Or you could invite students to think about the following words, or make their own prayer.
I have been hurt by unkind words.
I have been hurt when someone was unkind to me.
But, I have hurt others with unkind words and I have been unkind to others.
At the beginning of this new term,
may we choose to say good things and do kind things for each other.