Say the words “high holidays” and your average Christian or nondenominational secularist might think Christmas or Easter.
Say them to a Jew and they have a very specific meaning.
More people may know about Hanukkah because of its proximity to Christmas. Many know of Passover because it falls close to Easter. But few realize the importance of two Jewish holidays and the days that fall between.
“The high holidays are the holiest days of the year,” said Rabbi Nosson Meretsky, of Penn State Chabad.
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But what are they, exactly?
They begin with Rosh Hashana, starting Wednesday. Those who know something about it might identify it as the Jewish new year, but it is more than that.
“It’s the anniversary of the sixth day of creation, the first human creation,” Meretsky said. “We are asking God to be king of the world. It’s a kind of coronation.”
Like any holiday, it has its symbols, like sweet apples and honey for the promise of a sweet life in the coming year, and the challah bread, traditionally a long, braided loaf, is baked in a round to represent the cycle of life.
“It is joyous. We are certain we are going to have a good year,” Meretsky said. “But it is also serious. Both are very important.”
Just as important is the second holiday that bookends the week and a half of celebration and observation. Some might pick out Yom Kippur as the faith’s day of atonement, but might not know why.
“It commemorates the day the Jewish people were forgiven for worshipping the golden calf,” Meretsky said.
The day is remembered with fasting, he said, not for suffering but out of reverence.
Chabad will observe the holidays in style with services at the Days Inn Penn State on Pugh Street and meals at Chabad House on Waring Avenue. Meretsky said all are welcome, but did ask that reservations be made for the meal by visiting www.psujew.com/roshhashanah.
Congregation Brit Shalom in State College also will mark the holidays with services and fellowship.