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Jews around world celebrate new year 5773 as Rosh Hashana begins

Bernat Armangue / AP

Ultra-Orthodox Jews pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, before the start the holiday of Rosh Hashana, early Sunday.

Millions of Jews around the world began ushering in the new year, 5773, when the holiday Rosh Hashana began Sunday at sunset.

Rosh Hashana translates from Hebrew to mean "head of the year," said Karen Lewin, education and youth director at Beth El in Lower Makefield, Penn.

The book of life is opened for the coming year and the fate of each individual is decided by God, according to Jewish beliefs.

During Rosh Hashana, the faithful look back at their mistakes of the past year, make amends, so they can start the new year with a clean slate, Lewin said.

Ronen Zvulun / Reuters

People, seen through a doorway, shop at a food market in Jerusalem September 16, 2012, ahead of Rosh Hashanah on Sunday.

The names of the good are inscribed in the book to live another year. The wicked are redacted forever, and those in between are given a chance to reflect, repent and become righteous. After 10 days, on Yom Kippur, they can then be sealed into the book of life. Yom Kippur falls on Sept. 26.

President Barack Obama sent wishes for a "sweet year of health, happiness, and peace" in a video message:

"This is a joyful time for millions of people around the world. But Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are also opportunities for reflection. They represent a chance to take stock of our lives and look forward to the coming year with clear eyes and renewed purpose.

In that spirit, the Jewish Tradition teaches us that one of the most important duties we have during this period is the act of reconciliation. We’re called to seek each other out and make amends for those moments when we may not have lived up to our values as well as we should.

At a time when our public discourse can too often seem harsh; when society too often focuses on what divides us instead of what unites us; I hope that Americans of all faiths can take this opportunity to reach out to those who are less fortunate; to be tolerant of our neighbors; and to recognize ourselves in one another. And as a nation, let us be mindful of those who are suffering, and renew the unbreakable bond we share with our friends and allies – including the State of Israel."

Israeli President Shimon Peres in a Rosh Hashana message called Jews around the world "full partners" with Israel.

"As we stand poised on the threshold of the New Year, it is my distinct pleasure to convey my heartfelt good wishes to all the Jewish communities around the world, in my name and on behalf of your brethren in Israel, eager to embark upon another year with hope and optimism," he said in his published message.

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For some of the Jewish faithful, Rosh Hashana ends Monday, but for others on Tuesday at sundown, he said. Those days are spent at the synagogue, since working is not allowed throughout the holiday.

As with most religious holy days, symbols and customs are part of Rosh Hashana.

Apples and honey or honey cake are included in a meal to symbolize the wish for a sweet new year. Round challah bread symbolizes the year’s cycle, Lewin said.

Among other customs is sending family and friends greeting cards that read “Shana Tova” or wishing “A good year,” she said.

Also, the sound of a ram's horn, or shofar, is heard in Jewish homes and houses of worship to alert the Jewish faithful of the coming judgement.

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