Modesto synagogue to mark High Holy Days

Rabbi Shalom Bochner blows a rams horn, or Shofar, a year ago at Modesto’s Congregation Beth Shalom.
Rabbi Shalom Bochner blows a rams horn, or Shofar, a year ago at Modesto’s Congregation Beth Shalom.

Sunday marks the start of Rosh Hashana, the beginning of the 10 High Holy Days when the Jewish community gathers to seek reconciliation with God.

These 10 days, also called the 10 Days of Awe, are a time when Jewish people around the world focus on their mistakes of the past year and seek God’s forgiveness. The period begins with the start of a two-day Rosh Hashana and leads up to Yom Kippur and a 25-hour fast before a blast of the shofar, or ram’s horn, marks the end of the period.

“We believe that our actions on these days set our entire year in motion,” Rabbi Shalom Bochner of Modesto’s Congregation Beth Shalom said in an email interview.

This marks the beginning of year 5777 on the Jewish calendar, Bochner said. “For 3,000-plus years, the Jewish community has spent these 10 days in spiritual cleansing, seeking forgiveness from those that we have hurt, and praying for renewal and a sweet year.”

At CBS, the only Jewish congregation in Stanislaus County, these most important days on the Jewish calendar will be celebrated with a series of events, beginning Sunday with musical services, “Erev Rosh Hashana,” beginning at 7 p.m.

Bochner will lead all the observances, along with Chicago-based folk singer Leah Shoshanah Cowan.

The High Holy Days, or High Holidays, celebrate a 10-day period on the Hebrew lunar calendar. Rosh Hashana, or “Head of the Year,” marks the Hebrew new year celebration that begins a time of intense introspection and spiritual renewal within the Jewish faith.

“The High Holidays are an ancient time of new beginnings and celebrating the passage of time,” Bochner said in a press release. “Each year, we try to ensure that it will be new and meaningful.”

Hence, CBS also has some new events planned for this year’s observances. Cowan – who also is a yoga instructor – will lead not just musical programs, but yoga sessions as well. There will be new family programs and adult discussions.

In addition, a new all-ages “Yom Kippur in One Hour” program on Wednesday, Oct. 12, is designed for those who can’t participate all day due to work or school. While some members of the Jewish community will spend the entire day, from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. at CBS, it’s not an option for everyone.

“We decided to add this program as a way of welcoming those who are not yet ready to be here for a long time and still wanted to have an authentic experience of the day,” Bochner said. “I would much rather that someone be here for one hour than not at all. Obviously, there is no replacement for the full-day experience, but providing a meaningful ‘taste’ is a way to reach out to the broader community.”

Reaching out to the broader community also means welcoming people outside the Jewish faith to join in the experiences. All of the CBS programs are open to the public, Bochner said, and, “We have a long tradition of offering hospitality to those who may be interested in Jewish culture and holiday celebrations for whatever reasons.

“I receive many phone calls from Christians interested in experiencing the religious traditions that Jesus of Nazareth grew up with. (These) are extremely powerful holidays which have helped shape our modern religious world.”

The holiday, timed to the new moon of autumn, is celebrated with special prayers, music and food, including sweet items like apples dipped in honey and round challah with raisins – considered good omens for the coming year.

At the close of the High Holy Days is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Yom Kippur is considered the most holy day of the Hebrew calendar and observances include fasting from sunset through the appearance of stars the following day.

The Jewish holidays don’t end with Yom Kippur, Bochner pointed out. “Four days later starts the full-moon holiday of Sukkot (Tabernacles), which lasts a week and is marked with joyful meals outside in a Sukkah (harvest hut) and prayers for rain using dance and sacred plants. After Sukkot is a two-day celebration where we complete and restart the annual Torah reading cycle. Simchat Torah ends three weeks of holidays with music, dancing, celebration and festive processions with the Torah scrolls.”

High Holy Day Observances

Sunday – 7 to 9 p.m., Erev Rosh HaShana with musical services at 8:15 p.m.

Monday, Oct. 3 – 9 a.m. to noon, musical services; yoga at 9 a.m.; family service at 10 a.m.; reception noon to 1 p.m.; Tashlich 5:30 p.m.; seder, 6 p.m.

Tuesday, Oct. 4 – 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. musical traditional services; 12:30 p.m. potluck lunch

Tuesday, Oct. 11 – Erev Yom Kippur/Kol Nidre prayer. 6:15 p.m. cello; 6:25 to 8:15 p.m. Kol Nidre services.

Wednesday, Oct. 12 – Yom Kippur Day. Morning service begins at 9 a.m. and the day continues with a series of services, programs, talks and other Jewish observances until the 7:25 p.m. fast breaking and 8 p.m. blessing of the moon.

All events are at Congregation Beth Shalom, 1705 Sherwood Ave., Modesto. For more details, see or call 209-571-6060.