Repent. Oh, and enjoy the party

Don’t you love our new year celebrations — lots of atonement and not a single hangover?

By Simon Round, September 7, 2010

BarnsleyBob: "I've recently moved down to London and am now living in quite a Jewish area of North London. I hear that the Jewish New Year is coming up and I was wondering whether anyone could recommend any good parties.

KeepitKosher: Hi BarnsleyBob. You're right, the Jewish New Year is coming up soon but it's not really a party thing. This is the time of year that we have the family over and eat dinner. It lasts for two days.

BarnsleyBob: Oh I see, so it's a bit like Christmas - loads of food and presents and a few bottles of bubbly. Two days though - you must have a pretty sore head after all that.

KeepitKosher: Er, not really, Bob. We don't really get drunk as such. We eat apple dipped in honey and we blow a horn called the shofar. The only alcohol we drink is a small sip of a sweet wine called Palwin. I've had the same bottle for about two years.

BarnsleyBob: That's interesting. So you get your detox in on New Year's Eve rather than the morning after. I'd love to hear the shofar - I bet it sounds beautiful.

KeepitKosher: Er, not really, it's like a slightly less tuneful version of a vuvuzela.

BarnsleyBob: I don't mean to be rude but none of this sounds like much fun.

KeepitKosher: Well, it's not meant to be fun. It's happy in its way but also serious. There's a lot of repenting going on at this time of year.

BarnsleyBob: I thought you guys repented at Yom Kippur - that's the fast, isn't it?

KeepitKosher: That's right but we begin much earlier than that. Yom Kippur is when the atonement reaches fever pitch. Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the culmination of repentance which reaches its climax on Yom Kippur when everyone is hungry and a little sombre.

BarnsleyBob: Right, and after all that you have a big party?

KeepitKosher: Not quite. After Yom Kippur comes the festival of Succot. At the end of this is Hashanah Rabah during which we bash the willows and do a little last minute repenting.

BarnsleyBob: Blimey, I always thought Jews were quite law-abiding. What exactly are you repenting for?

KeepitKosher: Loads of stuff. A few months ago I had some ice cream only two hours after eating chicken. And I carried a heavy package from the car to the house on a Saturday without thinking. I think I also absent-mindedly put some Worcestershire sauce into a beef stew. I could go on.

BarnsleyBob: Er, right. I clearly have a lot to learn. Anyway, when you've finished bashing your willow,
I imagine you get to let your hair down and have a couple of pints.

KeepitKosher: Well, yes, then it gets really joyous. At Simchat Torah, which marks the beginning of the cycle of the reading of the law, we dance round the synagogue with a scroll. It's better than it sounds. This marks the beginning of the year so it's worth celebrating.

BarnsleyBob: I thought you said Rosh Hashanah was the New Year.

KeepitKosher: Well, it is but our year has several beginnings. There's Rosh Hashanah, there's Simchat Torah and then there's Tu B'Shvat which is the New Year for the trees. In a sense, Passover, which is about the redemption of the Jewish nation is also a new beginning.

BarnsleyBob: I bet you whoop it up at Passover then.

KeepitKosher: Not really. We give thanks we weren't massacred and recite the ten plagues.

BarnsleyBob: Goodness, I know Trappists who party more than you lot - there must be one festival where you let your hair down.

KeepitKosher: Yes there is, it's called Purim - we dress up, drink wine and, er, give thanks that we weren't massacred.

BarnsleyBob: Well, thanks for the chat. Have a thoughtful New Year and don't overdo it with the willow. If you ever need to know about flat caps and whippets, give me a shout.

    Last updated: 12:24pm, September 7 2010