Apples and honey signify a "sweet new year"

This year, the Jewish community in SLO and all around the world was forced to find a new way to celebrate Rosh Hashanah — the Jewish new year — amid COVID-19 regulations.

“Rosh Hashanah is a very important time in Jewish culture,” architectural engineering senior Eli Greenberg said. “It is a time judgment, reflection and repentance, focusing on the things that we have done wrong over the year and trying to improve ourselves for the following year.”

Communications freshman Hannah Siegel shares her outlook on Rosh Hashanah and her mindset as she approaches the new year. 

“I think it is important to remember things that have happened in the past to help you with the future,” Siegel said. “In a way [Rosh Hashanah] is like having a more positive outlook and reset for the future.” 

Rosh Hashanah is traditionally celebrated with a mix of special services that include prayers and blowing a shofar, or a ram’s horn. Rabbi Chaim Hilel of Chabad of Cal Poly and San Luis Obispo explains why the shofar is significant to Rosh Hashanah. 

“We blow the shofar because it is like an alarm clock,” Rabbi Hilel said. “It is time to think about the past year and what we did and how we want this year to go.”

During the time of Rosh Hashanah, participants eat a traditional dinner with foods such as apples and honey — a symbol of having a sweet new year. Pomegranates are also significant because the seeds represent the many good deeds that one will do throughout the year. And Challah, a type of  Jewish bread that is typically braided and long, is made round for Rosh Hashanah to symbolize the cycle of the calendar and the cycle of life. 

Economics senior Adam Melamed shares that his favorite part of Rosh Hashanah is a family tradition.

“My favorite part of Rosh Hashanah is that at the end before we eat, everyone says something they accomplished this past year and then something they look forward to the following year,” Melamed said. “My grandma has been writing down what we said throughout the years and it is really cool to kind of reflect and hear what we thought a year ago versus now.” 

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, in-person Rosh Hashanah services were unable to take place. However, Greenberg found a safe way to celebrate the Jewish new year. 

“The Rabbi and his wife made meals for people so they could pick up the food that they would have had if they had people over,” Greenberg said. “I got together with my girlfriend and we just had a nice little dinner outside on her balcony and said the prayers for the food and the wine.” 

In addition to making Rosh Hashanah take-out dinners for students which included apples, pomegranates, honey, challah, a brisket dinner and a vegetarian option dinner, Rabbi Hilel found a safe way to celebrate in-person.

“I have a space in my backyard and a tent and I was able to fit 25 chairs with social distancing,” Hilel said. “It was by RSVP only and we did services, and then on Sunday we offered multiple opportunities for people to come hear the shofar.” 

In addition to blowing the shofar at his own home, Rabbi Hilel also sounded the shofar for students on campus at University Union (UU) Plaza, at the Jewish Fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi and at Santa Rosa Park. 

“He walked all over SLO and went to all of the houses where he knows that Jewish students live,” industrial technology and packaging junior Noah Matlof, the President of Cal Poly’s Jewish Fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi, said. “You could hear [the shofar] all the way up the street —it was insane.” 

Rabbi Hilel said what Rosh Hashanah serves to the Jewish community.

“I think it is this idea that we are starting over and it is a new year,” Rabbi Hilel said. “Jan. 1 is like the new year for parties and Rosh Hashanah is the new year for your Judaism and your values, so I think it is nice for people to be able to have that special time.” 

Although Matlof said he has experienced some microaggressions about being Jewish, he also said how Cal Poly has improved in terms of religious diversity. 

“Overall I am very impressed with the Cal Poly community and how welcoming and embracing they are of Jewish life on campus” Matlof said. “I am proud of the steps that are starting to be taken and I am really hopeful for the future.”

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