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High Holy Days: the Basics

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur
Available in on-screen reading friendly (PDF) and printer-friendly, downloadable (PDF) versions.

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Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), together, are known as the High Holy Days (or High Holidays).

For many, this is the only time of the year we go to synagogue. For others, it's a chance to reflect, take stock of the past year and make amends. It's a holiday season that is rich in symbols, like the shofar or apples dipped in honey.

This booklet, High Holy Days: the Basics, explains the Days of Awe, starting with Rosh Hashanah and running through Yom Kippur, including what to expect at synagogue services, what the home celebrations may look like and concluding with a glossary of useful terms.

A guide through the why and how of the High Holy Days, this booklet can also be used:

  • as the foundation for a class on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur for family education;
  • as a handout for new synagogue or community members;
  • to help interfaith families — and all families — who need a refresher on the High Holy Days;
  • as a handout for religious schools, community gatherings and events during the month of Elul.


Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." Simple musical instrument made from a ram's horn that is blown in synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as well as each morning after daily services during the Hebrew month of Elul (the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur).
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