High Holiday traditions around the world

Discover five exotic ways to celebrate

roshtraditions image

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are known in Hebrew as the Yamim Noraim --the Days of Awe--and during this season, Jews reflect on the previous year and pray for the new year to come. Here are some ways Jews celebrate the High Holidays around the world--and in Chicago today.



In Ethiopian Jewish communities, Rosh Hashanah was traditionally known as Zakir (similar to the Hebrew word zachor , remembrance) and also Brenha Serkan , which means "rising of the dawn." Before dawn, each village's kessim --Ethiopian Jewish spiritual leaders--woke up, dressed in white, recited the first of four prayer services of the day, and retold the history of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and other Biblical figures. Villages then gathered for family feasts of lamb stew and injira , a traditional Ethiopian bread.



Iraqi Jews hold Seders not just on Passover, but also on Rosh Hashanah. This dates from the Babylonian Talmud, written in present-day Iraq, which specifies traditional foods--including beets, gourds, and dates--to eat on Rosh Hashanah. The names of these foods in Aramaic, the language of ancient Babylonia, sound similar to words of good fortune and other puns in Hebrew. 

Batya Cohen, a teacher and mom of five in Skokie, continues her family's Iraqi traditions, using a special Rosh Hashanah seder plate. In addition to traditional foods, Batya and her husband include creative English-language food puns in their Seder too: for instance, they eat raisins and celery together--wishing that the new Jewish year would bring a "raise-in-salary."  

"It's fun and it's memorable, and I feel like when you make things that are fun and memorable on Jewish holidays--that's what's going to keep our children and our families engaged no matter where they end up in life," Batya said.



Jews from Lithuania eat teiglach , balls of dough drenched in sticky honey, on Rosh Hashanah. This delicious delicacy has its origins in Middle Eastern cooking, where soaking dough in sweet syrup is a common way of preparing desserts. This practice spread to Jewish communities across Eastern Europe. Teighlach became popular in many Jewish communities, particularly in Lithuania--sometimes with the addition of dried fruits or nuts. Lithuanian Jews brought their love of teighlach with them as they settled in new communities; today these sweet Rosh Hashanah cookies are popular in South Africa, the United States, and Israel.



India's Bene Israel Jews trace their history back to a group from the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel who, some say, were shipwrecked off the coast of India during King Solomon's reign. 

A major highlight of Bene Israel Jews' High Holiday observance is Tzom Gedaliah , the Fast of Gedaliah, which falls the day after Rosh Hashanah and marks the assassination of the Jewish leader Gedaliah during the Babyonian conquest of Judea. Bene Israel Jews call the day Naviacha Roja , or the "Fast of the New Year."  The fast is traditionally broken with the delicious creamed rice pudding dish called kh eer , made with coconut milk, rice, cardamom, and nuts.



In the 1300s, Rabbi Jacob ben Asher, known as the Bal Ha'Turim , recorded that the Jews of his native Ashkenaz (Germany in Hebrew) dipped apples into honey on Rosh Hashanah to have a sweet new year. Since then, eating apples and honey has become a popular way to celebrate Rosh Hashanah throughout the Ashkenazi world.

Lake Zurich mother-of-two Rachel Kamin, who serves as Director, Cultural & Learning Center at North Suburban Synagogue Beth El in Highland Park, gives this custom a modern twist, baking her Bubbe Sarah's upside-down-apple-noodle-kugel each Rosh Hashanah. Last year, when the pandemic made it impossible to host guests, Rachel baked kugels and delivered them to relatives in Frankfort, Mundelein, and Northbrook.


Yvette Alt Miller, Ph.D. lives with her family in the northern suburbs of Chicago.


AdvertisementSpertus Institute
AdvertisementBuckingham Pavilion
Connect with us