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Ancient traditions and new activities planned for High Holy Days in Modesto

A selection of symbolic foods that have a place in the classic Rosh Hashana meal includes a round loaf of challah bread, center, topped with apples dipped in honey. Around the challah, from top left, are honey, fresh dates, pomegranates and an apple. Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, is celebrated with much prayer and with food.
A selection of symbolic foods that have a place in the classic Rosh Hashana meal includes a round loaf of challah bread, center, topped with apples dipped in honey. Around the challah, from top left, are honey, fresh dates, pomegranates and an apple. Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, is celebrated with much prayer and with food. The Associated Press

Before the book of life closes on another year, the Jewish community will gather to seek reconciliation with God during the 10 High Holy Days.

At Congregation Beth Shalom in Modesto, services, musical offerings, a special Seder, talks about the Torah and more will mark the spiritual season that begins with Rosh Hashanah on Wednesday evening.

The High Holy 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. It begins with blasts of the shofar, or ram’s horn, at the start of Rosh Hashanah and ends with Yom Kippur and a 25-hour fast before the shofar sounds a final time.

At CBS, the only Jewish congregation in Stanislaus County, Rabbi Shalom Bochner and guest cantor Michael Buczaczer will lead the opening services Wednesday evening and a choir of congregation members will perform. Over the course of 10 days, both traditional and new activities will be held.

The High Holy Days, or High Holidays, celebrate a 10-day period on the Hebrew lunar calendar. Rosh Hashanah, which literally means the “Head of the Year,” according to a press release from CBS, is the Hebrew New Year celebration that begins a time of intense introspection and spiritual renewal within the Jewish faith.

The holiday, timed to the new moon of autumn, is celebrated with special prayers, melodies and foods, such as honey cake, apples dipped in honey and round braided challah with raisins – all considered good omens for a sweet year.

“It’s a sweet time of year and also a very serious one,” Bochner said in the release. “We are supposed to look inward and reflect on our actions, think about whom we have hurt, and where we have fallen short as individuals and as a human race. The ancient wail of the shofar is supposed to function like an alarm clock for the soul, waking us up from our spiritual slumber so we can return to be our true best selves.”

New this year at the Modesto congregation, according to the release, will be a Rosh Hashanah Seder made up of ritual foods symbolizing a good year following the evening services, as well as a Rosh Hashanah Reception with wine and refreshments following daytime services. There also will be youth services and Torah discussions.

At the close of the High Holy Days is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, considered the most holy day of the Hebrew calendar. Yom Kippur is observed through complete fasting from sunset through the appearance of stars the following day and traditionally is spent entirely in prayer, meditation and study. As night falls, the shofar is sounded, marking the conclusion of the Days of Awe.

Despite the intensity of the day, it is one of joy, not sadness, said Bochner. “Yom Kippur is a day of cleansing, of feeling that you have a new start on life.”

Congregation Beth Shalom will hold several services throughout the High Holy Days period including those for Rosh Hashanah at 7 p.m. Wednesday, at 9 a.m. Thursday and at 9:30 a.m. Friday; and Yom Kippur at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 3 and from 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 4.

For more information, call CBS at (209) 571-6060 or visit www.cbsmodesto.org.

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