Sunday at sundown marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year of 5739 or Rosh Hashanah, which translated from the Hebrew "head of the year."
"It is a time of taking stock and of reevaluating oneself as opposed to a time of celebration for the New Year most people know," explained Elaine Mann, director of Judaic Studies at the Jewish Community Center in Rockville.
Reform Jews in the area will observe the holiday of Rosh Hashanah from sundown Oct. 1 through sundown Oct. 2 with special meals and synagogue services on Sunday evening and Monday morning.
Conservative and orthodox Jews will celebrate the holiday over two days from sundown Oct. 1 through sundown Oct. 3 with two additional services.
The difference originated, Mann said, because hundreds of years ago Jews in Israel were informed by smoke signals of the holiday's start and often those living far away from town centers had difficulty reading the signals. They observed the holdiay for two days to insure its correct observance and conservative and orthodox Jews have chosen to keep this tradition.
Rosh Hashanah intorduces a 10-day period called Yomim-Norayim (Hebrew for "Days of Awe"), which concludes on Yom Kuppur the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, from sundown Oct. 10 through sunset Oct. 11.
Jews believe that on Rosh Hashanah God makes an initial determination of an individual's fate for the year and on Yom Kippur a final determination is made resulting in entry into one of three books: Book of Life, Book of Death or Book of Uncertainty.
The 10-day period is "a time of repentance," Mann stressed, "you should try to mend your ways. Before you ask forgiveness of God you should ask for forgiveness from your fellow human beings."
Most Jews will celebrate Rosh Hashanah before or after services on Sunday with a special meal including apples dipped in honey (symbolizing a sweet year) and a round loaf of challah bread as opposed to the braidedloaf served the rest of the year.