My name is Murray Brown. I am a Jewish student originally from Manchester, but who has lived in Cornwall for the last 10 years. The most important times of the year in Judaism are the High Holy Days, which include Yom Kippur (יום הכיפור ‘Day of Atonement’) and Rosh Hashanah (ראש השנה), the Jewish New Year, which this year will be 5777. As the Hebrew and Gregorian calendar do not correlate, Rosh Hashanah falls on a different date every year in the latter. I usually celebrate this time of year with my family by going to a synagogue on Rosh Hashanah (usually for 2 days) for morning services.
I used to belong to an Orthodox synagogue in Manchester named the Holy Law, which conducted its services mostly in Hebrew, but the synagogue I have been going to in Cornwall (Kehillat Kernow) uses a mixture of Hebrew and English prayers in its services. For those that do not know, a synagogue is a Jewish place of worship. When we go to synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, a ram’s horn (known as a shofar) is blown. The symbolism behind this is the remembrance of the story of Abraham, who was ordered by G-d to sacrifice his son Isaac. However, upon arriving at the mountain that was specified, and as he is about to sacrifice his son, an Angel stills his hand, and he sees a ram caught in the thicket by his horns. After being told the command to sacrifice Isaac was a test from G-d, he sacrifices the ram instead. I used to hold the position of the blower of the Ram’s horn when I lived in Cornwall. We also prepare ourselves and ask for forgiveness from G-d for the sins we have committed during the previous years and in order to have a sweet new year we dip an apple in honey. (Shana tova v’umetukah is a common Jewish New Year’s greeting, and means ‘have a sweet new year’)
This Rosh Hashanah was my first time celebrating the Jewish New Year at the third oldest synagogue in the UK – the Exeter Hebrew Congregation; it is always great to join a new Jewish community and learn about their own particular traditions and rituals. Rosh Hashanah means to me the starting of a new year with a clean slate, getting rid of sins and striving for a life with love of Judaism and trying to live by most of the Torah commandments (the 613 regulations in the Old Testament of the Bible).
Being Jewish in Britain is a story of pride and love of history and tradition. However, sadly fear of persecution and anti-Semitism runs deeply through most British Jews. When I lived in Manchester, the Holy Law synagogue was protected by unarmed security during prayers, and the story is the same for the synagogue in Exeter. One may be proud of their origin story but one who is a Jew must be wary in modern Britain, and indeed much of Europe.
For Jewish students everywhere: שנה טובה. Happy New Year.