This article first appeared in The Jewish Daily Forward on Sept. 22. Illustrations by Dani E. Go.
How is the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, different from that other New Year? Let us count down the ways.
On secular New Year’s Eve we make resolutions with the best of intentions. We promise to walk on the treadmill for 30 minutes a day, to stop wasting at least $4 on a latte at Starbucks and to give up all refined sugar. At Rosh Hashanah services, we say prayers to begin the ten days of repentance because we’ve forgotten those resolutions. This repentance comes in handy at the Kiddush when we see that there is rugelach.
Rosh Hashanah is a family holiday; New Year’s Eve is not. On Rosh Hashanah our brisket and kugel entice the kids to come home; these kids are even tolerant of Cousin Ronnie’s embarrassing questions, like, “Do you have a boyfriend yet?” On New Year’s Eve, it’s embarrassing to admit you have nowhere to go except to Ronnie’s party for the cousins.
8. Same Old, Same Old Tunes
The melody to “Avinu Malkeinu” hasn’t changed in a million years. Compared with this, “Auld Lang Syne” is a recent hit; it has been on the charts for only 226 years. With both songs, the crowd starts off strong. Everyone knows “Should old acquaintance be forgot… ” and “Avinu Malkeinu sh’ma kolenu…,” but many trail off after the first line or two and mumble the rest.
7. Cantor vs. DJ
While the cantor is a professional who reads Hebrew and has a beautiful singing voice, the New Year’s Eve party disc jockey might be the host’s nephew who hooked up his iPhone to a set of speakers. If the DJ doesn’t mix it up, he won’t get the gig next year. But if the cantor does a Rosh Hashanah remix, the congregation shouts “Dayenu.” No one expects new tunes on Rosh Hashanah; it’s surprising enough when the cantor comes down off the bimah to sing the prayer Hineni from the back of the synagogue.