IDF soldiers blow shofar at the Western Wall
IDF soldiers blow shofar at the Western Wall Israel news photo: Flash 90

The sonorous call of the ram's horn – the Shofar – will herald the start of Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year on Wednesday evening, and nearly a month of holidays in the Hebrew month of Tishrei.

As always, IDF soldiers are among the first to heed the call.

Some 17,000 soldiers and their officers this year have attended Selichot services – the prayers asking G-d for forgiveness – conducted by the Military Rabbinate during the Hebrew month of Elul prior to Rosh HaShanah. The services were held in Jerusalem, Tzfat, Tiberias and elsewhere around the country.

Throughout the IDF, preparations are nearly complete for the upcoming holiday, with kitchens busily getting ready with a rich and varied menu for a special New Year's dinner.

The IDF Food Center is gearing up with about 2.8 tons of honey, 28 tons of apples and 4.5 tons of pomegranates. To toast the New Year, the kitchens will be ready with some 7,000 bottles of grape juice, to be followed by a dinner for hungry soldiers that will include 6.5 tons of fish, 15 tons of chicken thighs, seven tons of beef and 22 tons of turkey. For dessert, army chefs are preparing seven tons of honey cake and three tons of dried fruit.

Special preparations are being made to serve those soldiers who are stationed in outposts, submarines, missile boats and Air Force command sites.

'Three-Day Weekend Holiday'

This year the two days of the Rosh HaShanah holiday, Thursday and Friday, are followed by the Sabbath, creating a three-day weekend for Jews around the world.

Special foods are served at the holiday meal, including an apple dipped in honey to signify a sweet year. A selection of dishes is arranged on the table, symbolizing blessings for fertility, victory over our enemies, strength and being at the “head and not the tail” (“rosh” in Hebrew is head), among others.

Due to the Sabbath, the day-long Fast of Gedaliah, which traditionally follows the holiday, is delayed until Sunday. The fast commemorates the end of Jewish rule in the Land of Israel following the destruction of the First Holy Temple approximately 2,500 years ago.

10 Days of Repentance

Rosh HaShanah also kicks off the 10-day period known as the Ten Days of Repentance that ends with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which this year begins on Friday evening, September 17.

The New Year in Judaism is not a time for parties, but rather is a time of great introspection, and taking inventory of one's relationship with G-d and with one's fellow.

Based on the commandment in Numbers 29:1, 100 shofar blasts are dramatically sounded throughout the prayers, “awakening” us to improve our ways.

The “tashlich” prayer is recited on the second day of the holiday over a body of “living” water in which fish are swimming, in which one asks G-d to “throw away” his sins.

Yom Kippur which this year falls on Friday night, September 17, is the only Jewish fast that is not postponed in deference to the holy Sabbath. The holiest day of the Jewish calendar, the Day of Atonement begins at sunset and ends Saturday at nightfall, a total of around 25 hours.