One hundred blasts of the shofar, or ram’s horn, will mark the start of Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish new year – on Thursday. One final blast will conclude Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish year, on Sept. 14.
The High Holy Days also are called the 10 Days of Awe, a time when Jews around the world will focus on their mistakes of the past year – with others and with God – and ask for forgiveness and seek reconciliation before God closes his book of life for another year. It ends with a 25-hour fast before the shofar blows a final time.
“All of us like clean slates,” said Rabbi Andra Greenwald, a member of Congregation Beth Shalom in Modesto. “We emerge on Yom Kippur hopefully with a clean slate, and (hoping) that the coming year will be healthy, full of joy.”
The shofar, she said, is difficult to blow and has a piercing sound.
“It is meant to wake us up, not only literally, but also psychologically, socially and spiritually from our slumber. To make us aware of who we can be and how we can be. I believe it will lead all of us to be our best selves, how we can best get along and how we can work together to carry out the missions for which we were placed here in the first place.”
This Rosh Hashanah, literally “the head of the year,” will usher in year 5774 in the Jewish calendar. According to Jewish tradition, God created the world 5,774 years ago, so the holiday is sometimes called the “birthday of the world.”
“Rosh Hashanah is rather a joyous celebration,” Greenwald said. “It’s not like the Jan. 1st New Year, where you make a lot of resolutions. Here, we believe you have to look back before you can look ahead and determine how we’re going to be just a little bit better this next year.”
As in other faith traditions, food is a part of the celebration.
“Before people come to the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, they’ll have a festive meal,” Greenwald said. “The meal will include apples dipped in honey, symbolizing a sweet year. We have a special challah (bread) that’s round to symbolize the year is ending and beginning again. We have wine and share the holiday with friends.”
A guest rabbi and cantor – Rabbi Shalom Bochner from Berkeley and Cantor Michael Buczaczer from San Diego – will lead the Holy Days services at CBS.
During the Rosh Hashanah service, Greenwald said, “We read about Sarah wanting a baby son. Sarah was 90 when she had her son. The message is that it’s never too late to start over. It’s never too late to look inside and ask, ‘How can I impact the world in a positive way?’”
Another Rosh Hashanah text, she added, describes how God tested Abraham’s faith by telling him to bind his son, Isaac, and offer him as a sacrifice. (God later provided a ram as a substitute sacrifice.)
“God tests all of us in unique ways,” Greenwald said. “Maybe we have to keep that in the back of our mind – will we pass the test this year that we didn’t pass the year before? Will we be more kind, more generous, more thoughtful? Are we going to listen when God talks to us?”
In the days leading up to Yom Kippur, she said, Jews “spend the time apologizing, making amends, making atonement for our transgressions. We don’t go to God first; we go to the person, because that’s the one to whom I need to make amends first. It’s really difficult to face a person we hurt and to re-live it because we’re talking about it. Then we go to God and say, ‘Please forgive me for my transgressions and absolve me from my sins.’ Then we see how sincere we were by how we behave the next time in that situation.”
The day of Yom Kippur begins after sundown on the previous evening with a Kol Nidrei service.
“It’s a very beautiful service with haunting melodies,” Greenwald said. “It’s very moving. This is just between each person and God.”
Fasting begins with the service and ends at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, which has full morning and early evening services, with a break in the afternoon.
“We beat our breasts,” Greenwald said of those services. “We atone not only for ourselves, but for the community. We speak in the plural – we did this and we did that. We’re all in this together. We pray not only for our own atonement, but for everyone so we can all start over together.
“Then once we blow the shofar, we break the fast together at the synagogue with a light snack. We always have herring because it’s very salty and it makes us drink water, and many people are dehydrated by then. Then, after services, people will either go home or go to friends’ homes to break the fast with a meal. Even though it’s a very solemn day, we end the day with the shofar blown and hope that the future will be brighter.”
Wednesday, 7-8:45 p.m., Rosh Hashanah
Thursday, 9 a.m., Rosh Hashanah; 10:30 a.m., youth service; 2:30 p.m., Tashlich (casting away sins)
Sept. 13, 6:50 p.m., Kol Nidrei
Sept. 14: 9 a.m. until 12:30 or 1 p.m., Yom Kippur; 10:30 a.m., youth service; 6:30 p.m., Ne’ilah (leading to shofar blast)
For full list of services, visit cbsmodesto.org.
Cost for nonmembers, $108 for all five services (two Rosh Hashanah, Kol Nidrei and two Yom Kippur) or $36 each. Note: The synagogue does not accept money during the holidays, so please call the office, (209) 571-6060, in advance for information and payment. Congregation Beth Shalom is at 1705 Sherwood Ave., Modesto.