Rosh Hashanah - a time of celebration and personal reflection

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By Special to the Monitor

On Sept. 18, the two-day Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins. Rosh Hashanah is Hebrew for “head of the year” and this day begins the Jewish year 5770.

The holiday celebrates the creation of mankind and features festive meals and New Year good wishes. It also begins a 10-day period of personal reassessment and atonement.

Known as the Days of Awe, this is a time of introspection and a chance to consider where one might have been a better person. It is a time to ask forgiveness from others for intentional or unintentional wrongs. The Days of Awe culminate in Yom Kippur, a fast day, when Jews ask God for forgiveness for wrongs committed against God, beginning with the ancient chant of Kol Nidre.

The Jewish calendar is neither solar, like the familiar Gregorian calendar, nor strictly lunar, like the Islamic calendar. Rather, it is a complicated mix of the two that inserts a leap month seven out of every 19 years. Thus, the Jewish New Year falls at different times between late September and early October.

Unlike the more familiar Jewish holidays of Passover and Hanukah, which are primarily home celebrations, the observance of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur revolves around community prayer in a synagogue.  Because of this focus on communal prayer, these days serve as a reaffirmation of the vitality of Jewish communities everywhere. The Days of Awe are also a time when departed loved ones are remembered; it is a time to visit graves and upkeep cemeteries. A special memorial service, known as Yiskor, is held on the afternoon of Yom Kippur. Another aspect of the communal observance of Rosh Hashanah is the ceremony of Tashlich. In this act of symbolic self-purification, the community meets by a body of water where Jews empty their pockets of crumbs and recite penitential prayers.

One of the highlights of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services is the blowing of a shofar (SHOfar), a ram's horn. The shofar commemorates the near-sacrifice of Isaac and is an ancient Jewish call to assembly. During this time, the shofar's unforgettable song awakens holiness and contemplation among worshipers and creates a deeply felt communal awareness of past transgressions. This year, because the first full day of Rosh Hashanah falls on the Jewish Sabbath, the shofar will only be blown on the second day of the holiday.

Yom Kippur means "Day of Atonement" and according to Jewish tradition, it is the Sabbath of Sabbaths. It is an obligation of all Jews who have reached religious maturity (age 13 or older) to refrain from food or drink, work, or even sexual relations, beginning the evening before and ending 25 hours later. Of course fasting is suspended, in fact forbidden, in the case of an individual whose health would be jeopardized. The day is spent in personal contemplation and prayer and the final blowing of the shofar signals its completion. The fast is broken with a light fish and dairy meal in the company of friends and family.

The Los Alamos Jewish Center will conduct services during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur at the following times:

• 7:30 p.m. Sept. 18, Evening Rosh Hashanah Services;

• 9 a.m. Sept. 19, Morning Rosh Hashanah Services;

• 9 a.m. Sept. 20, Morning Rosh Hashanah Services;

• 5 p.m. Sept. 20, Tashlich service at Ashley Pond;

• 12:30 p.m. Sept. 27, Memorial Service at Guaje Pines Cemetery;

• 6:30 p.m. Sept. 27, Kol Nidre; and

• 9 a.m. Sept. 28, Yom Kippur Morning Services.