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Rushushunna and Yum Kipper 101 A High Holy Day Primer 

09/03/2018 12:52:15 PM


Rabbi Scott Hausman-Weiss

For days that are supposed to be filled with meaningful prayer and soulful fasting, the rush of the High Holy days and their focus on food, clothing, family and friends can be overwhelming for Jews and sometimes a little bit confounding for their neighbors.  So in an effort to offer a review for my fellow Jews an a primer for their neighbors, following are a few FAQ’s on the subject.

  1. Q: Does anybody else think it’s funny that a Jewish holiday meant for introspection, a Sabbath if you will, is called “Rush-ushunna” and another that centers on a fast from things that feed the body is called “Yum-kipper?”

A: Yes, it is kinda funny however the actual way to pronounce the names of these holidays (spelled phonetically) is: “räsh-(h)ə-ˈshä-nə” (rhymes with “Gaushe La Sauna”) (lit. head of the year) and “yōm-ki-ˈpu̇r” (rhymes with ‘bonely poor”) (lit. Day of Atonement). 

  1. Q: Is my memory failing me or do the Jewish High Holy Days seem to bounce around September and October? 

A: No, at least for this reason, your memory is intact.  It’s just that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as do all Jewish holidays, follow the Hebrew calendar – which is lunar/solar based. According to Wiki, “The Hebrew lunar year is about eleven days shorter than the solar year and uses the 19-year Metonic cycle to bring it into line with the solar year, with the addition of an intercalary month every two or three years, for a total of seven times per 19 years.” This might explain why there are so many Jewish accountants.

  1. Q: How might I know if my neighbors are celebrating Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?

A: Good signs of this are: lots of traffic in the Belden’s parking lot, very few boxes of matzah balls on the shelves of HEB, new synagogue presidents sweating bullets in anticipation of the first public speech they have given since their Bar/Bat Mitzvah. And, you could always ask them, nu?  (Nu = Yiddish for “so, go ask then!”)

  1. Q: Why do Jews like to feed the birds on Rosh Hashanah?

A: On the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah, there is a ritual of tossing bread into the water, as a symbolic act of tossing away our sins from the year gone-by.  (This assumes that you have sought forgiveness for them too!)

  1. Q: Should I wear a party hat and shout “Happy New Year”?

A: Yes, but only on December 31 at midnight.  Rosh Hashana is celebrated more “old school” with the sounding of a ram’s horn (called a shofar).

  1. Q: What are the rabbi’s sermons going to be like?

A: You’ll have to show up to find out.

  1. Q: What do I wear to synagogue?

A: What you want. Here are some suggestions of options: headcovering (not propeller beanies), a prayer shawl (day services only, plus Kol Nidrei), white and not leather (Yom Kippur only).

  1. Q: If I can only stomach going to one service, which one should it be?

A: Kol Nidrei. That’s the biggie.

  1. Q: What kinds of things do you have to avoid on Yom Kippur?

A: Food, kvetching, jokes and business transactions thus making this the most unJewish of Jewish holidays of the year. 

And if you’re looking for an easy place to experience any of these high and holy days, please free to check out our synagogue with no walls and open to all: Shma Koleinu  (  No fees or dues or membership obligations required.  Join us…you already belong.

Wishing you peace in the new year, Rabbi Scott

Sun, December 15 2019 17 Kislev 5780