The holiest days in Judaism begin at sundown tonight on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, which ushers in the new year 5773 and concludes with Yom Kippur on Sept. 26.
The "Ten Days of Awe" are a time of introspection, said Rabbi Andra Greenwald of Congregation Beth Shalom. "During those 10 days, people spend a lot of time asking others for forgiveness for our transgressions, and also forgiving others who come to us," she said.
"It concludes with Yom Kippur, our holiest day of the year. The understanding is that before we can ask God to forgive us, we need to go to those people against whom we've transgressed and seek their forgiveness first."
The High Holy Days include services at 9 a.m. on Monday and Tuesday at CBS. At the conclusion of Monday's service, there is an additional service called "tashlich," Greenwald said. "We walk over to a moving body of water and symbolically cast away our sins. In ancient times, we had a scapegoat we'd rub our sins on the goat and send it away. It's the same principle."
The Jewish new year celebration is sometimes called the birthday of the world, Greenwald said. It marks the time when God created the world and also represents when his book of life is open for 10 days before it is sealed for another year on Yom Kippur, also called the Day of Atonement. So unlike our modern Jan. 1 holiday, she said, which is a pure celebration and looking forward to the year ahead, Rosh Hashanah is a more sober time to look back over the past year and seek to mend any hurts and mistakes.
Of course, she added, Jews don't have to wait until Rosh Hashanah begins to seek reconciliation.
"I don't believe it's ever too early or too late to ask for forgiveness," she said. "I love to go into this holiday feeling I've made as many amends as I need to so I don't have to make so many apologies, and I can be busier cooking, visiting and celebrating than apologizing."
After the days of individual introspection and forgiveness, Greenwald said, the community comes together for a day of atonement. Yom Kippur includes 25 hours of fasting from all food and liquids, including water. Services in the morning and afternoon include a literal "beating of breasts," Greenwald said.
"When we atone for our sins, we atone for them in the plural we have sinned. We have cheated. We have stolen," she said. "We say it in the plural because one important aspect of Judaism is a sense of community. We atone together and comfort together. So even if I've never stolen something, I might beat my breast next to someone who has stolen, cheated or lied. We're all in this together."
The sound of the shofar, or ram's horn, ends Yom Kippur and signals the closing of God's book for another year.
"On Thursday, Sept. 27, we wake up with clean slates," Greenwald said. "We're 10 days into the new year by then. We recognize we have a new opportunity to be our best selves."
Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2012.
7 p.m. today, Erev Rosh Hashanah
9 a.m. Monday, Rosh Hashanah 1; 10 a.m. children's service; tashlich at the conclusion of services
9 a.m. Tuesday, Rosh Hashanah 2
6:30 p.m. Sept. 25, Kol Nidrei
9:30 a.m. Sept. 26, Yom Kippur services throughout the day, including 11:30 a.m. Yizkor (memorial prayers), 5 p.m. Mincha service and 6 p.m. Ne'ilah service, concluding with final shofar blast about 7:30 p.m.
Congregation Beth Shalom is at 1705 Sherwood Ave., Modesto. Call (209) 571-6060 or visit www.cbsmodesto.org.