Rosh Hashanah rundown: how to celebrate at USC

The holiday, which marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year, begins at sunset on Friday.

Rosh Hashanah, the holiday celebrating the Jewish New Year, will begin Friday at sundown. The holiday’s name translates to “head of the year” in Hebrew, and begins on the first day of the month of Tishrei on the Hebrew calendar, lasting for two full days. Because the Hebrew calendar follows the lunar cycle, Rosh Hashanah usually falls between mid-September and early October.

While being away from home during the holidays can be challenging for students who celebrate, on-campus organizations are engaging the campus community with special events to celebrate the new year. USC Hillel and Chabad at USC, the University’s Jewish organizations, are hosting many events throughout the holiday.

Rosh Hashanah is traditionally celebrated with services on the evenings and mornings of each day with messages of atonement, renewal and hope for the new year. A hollowed-out ram’s horn known as a shofar is blown at these services as a reminder for worshippers to prepare for the many other holidays that occur during Tishrei, such as Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

In addition to services, Jewish people will have celebratory meals featuring foods that are representative of positive aspects to bring into the new year. The most common foods associated with Rosh Hashanah are round challah to symbolize the cyclical nature of the year and apples with honey to symbolize sweet hopes for the new year. In addition to services and meals, Jewish people will not work, as the holiday is a period of rest.

USC Hillel will kick off the holiday on Friday night with services at 6 p.m., followed by candle lighting and dinner. Hillel will also host services on Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m. followed by lunch, and will conclude on Sunday with a luncheon at 1:30 p.m.

Rachael Cohen, Assistant Director of USC Hillel, noted that USC students are not the only ones to attend Hillel’s services; students from other universities nearby will often join.

“Although L.A. is full of amazing Hillel professionals on university campuses, we recognize that we offer sometimes services at a more convenient time or just more or less offerings, and so we definitely want students from around the L.A. area who are involved in Hillel to come join us for the holidays,” said Cohen.

Cohen emphasized that Hillel’s services are open to anyone who wishes to participate, no matter their religious affiliation.

USC Chabad will begin services at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, followed by candle lighting, apples and honey eating, and a holiday dinner. There will be two services followed by meals on Saturday. On Sunday, among other things, Chabad will host a tashlich session at 7:15 p.m. that evening. Tashlich is a ritual in which participants symbolically get rid of their sins from the past year by throwing small bits of bread into nearby creeks, streams, or other bodies of flowing water.

Students can RSVP for the aforementioned Hillel and Chabad events, as well as others, at their websites.

Cohen said that Rosh Hashanah, a time of joy, comes before the Day of Atonement so that Jewish people can gather and form communities before they must be vulnerable about themselves and their past.

“Rosh Hashanah is like the beginning of a spiritual preparation to open our hearts and open our souls,” Cohen said. “So we can commit to another year of acknowledging that there will be joy, and then there will also be sadness, and that it’s okay, that we’re not perfect beings.”

Rosh Hashanah is one of the holiest days of the year for Jewish people, so if your friends are celebrating you can wish them a “shana tovah u’metukah” or a “happy and sweet new year.”

Chag Sameach, Trojans!