apples and honey for Rosh Hashana — the Jewish New Year

I’ve always loved this time of year for the newness of it all. Shiny new shoes, brand new clothes, sleek new haircuts, backpacks filled with new supplies. The days are getting shorter, the air is sometimes a bit cooler, and we can see a hint of oncoming fall in the leaves. It’s time to take a deep breath and start fresh. To recommit to learning, to make new friends, to begin something exciting.

It’s also time for the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana — the new year. It seems almost fortuitous that the Jewish new year falls in line with the new school year. It feels right that at the same time our children meet their new teachers and classmates, we start to think about how we can make this year even better than the last. The themes of Rosh Hashana fit seamlessly with this time of year. Here’s why.

1. Rosh Hashanah is all about newness

One tradition many follow is eating a new fruit on Rosh Hashana — something you may not have tasted in awhile or ever, for that matter. I’m planning to hit up that funky fruit section at Wegman’s and buy something I’ve never tasted before. We eat the fruit and then say a short prayer called the shehecheyanu (it’s even hard for the Jews to pronounce!), which expresses our gratitude for being alive to try this new experience.

At this time of year I feel a lot of gratitude. I am grateful to have my children in wonderful schools, where they feel supported and loved. I am grateful to have just started a new job that’s been exciting and challenging from the start. I am grateful we are supported by wonderful communities, families, and friends. Rosh Hashana is a great time to take a moment to be grateful, to offer up a little prayer (however you want to say it and to whatever kind of deity or non-deity makes sense to you), and to savor that newness.

2. Rosh Hashanah is all about sweetness

The two foods that are emblematic of this time of year are apples and honey. We dip apples in honey and offer each other wishes of a new year filled with moments of happiness and sweetness. Apples are sweet enough on their own, but when you dip them in honey it’s even more of a taste explosion. And that’s purposeful, too. The intensity of that sweetness in your mouth, the crunch of the apple, and the smoothness of the honey — that’s all to emphasize that desire for good things in the year to come.

Another Jewish tradition is that learning should always be sweet; an old story says teachers used to put honey on the children’s slates so they would always think of school as a special place. I love the idea that learning should be special and sweet. It’s a gift to be able to learn and grow, and at Rosh Hashana we can take some time to notice that gift as we bite into our crisp apples. Plus, it’s the world’s greatest excuse for New England’s favorite fall activity — apple picking!

3. And finally, Rosh Hashanah is a chance to start over

It’s a chance to think about our behavior from the past year and recommit to being better. To start fresh. To reinvent ourselves. Many of us do that on January 1 (until we fall off our proverbial wagons three weeks later), but I love how Rosh Hashana comes at the same time that we start our fall routines. We step back into schedule, to packing lunches, to figuring out after-school care, and I always find it a little bit easier to stick to my Rosh Hashana resolutions.

Judaism also emphasizes working on our person-to-person interactions at Rosh Hashana; that’s where it’s most important to be kind and thoughtful and empathetic. To be our best selves. I try to think about how I can be the best mother, partner, employee, and human I can be. It’s a chance to promise to myself that I can change for the better.

Whether you’re celebrating Rosh Hashana or simply the start of a new school year, may you have a good — and sweet — new year!