This year from September 6th through 8th, the Ukrainian and global Jewish community celebrates Rosh Hashana, marking the beginning of the 10 Days of Awe—a period of preparation, reflection, and repentance leading up to Judaism’s holiest day: Yom Kippur.
Rosh Hashana commemorates the start of the Jewish New Year (translating directly from Hebrew as “the head of the year”) and the opening of the book of life, in which God inscribes the names of the righteous. The wicked, God condemns to death, but those in-between have from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur to perform teshuvah (repentance). During the 48-hour extended-day holiday of Rosh Hashana, Jewish peoples attend synagogue, pray, rest, and reflect. Symbolic foods, such as challah—baked in a round loaf to represent the new year—and pomegranate seeds—numerous as the 613 commandments in the Torah—commonly feature. In addition, many Jews recite prayers near bodies of water during a Tashlich ceremony or toss pieces of bread into the water to represent the casting off of sins.
The holiday has particular meaning to the people of Ukraine due to the significance of the Ukrainian town of Uman, the resting place of the founder of the Breslov Hasidic sect, Nachman of Breslov. Following the death of Nachman in 1810, many Jews from all around the world began to make the pilgrimage to his grave as a part of the celebration of Rosh Hashana. Though the celebrations were small under Soviet control, the number of pilgrims has grown exponentially following Ukrainian independence. Every year, tens of thousands of Jews come to Uman in order to pray, read psalms, and pay their respects. Though COVID-19 severely limited participation in 2020, Ukraine anticipates up to 50,000 pilgrims this year.
Ukraine, with the help of Israel, is actively taking steps to ensure the health, safety, and security of all visitors. Approximately 50,000 COVID-19 rapid-test kits, 190,000 masks, and 19,000 bottles of hand sanitizer await the pilgrims. SBU forces have also staged additional drills to prepare.
On September 15th and 16th, the global Jewish community celebrates Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The date coincides with the day the prophet Moses descended from Mount Sinai. For nearly 26 hours, partakers fast, avoid washing and lotions, do not work, and spend the day praying for forgiveness. Synagogues conduct five services throughout the course of the day—Maariv, Shacharit, Musaf, Minchah, and Neilah—and then mark the end of the fast with a shofar blast.