Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year that starts Wednesday at sunset, is known both as a time of personal introspection and as an occasion for taking stock of the state of the outside world.
So this year, many local rabbis say they will focus in their sermons on disturbing events in the United States, especially a spate of anti-Semitic attacks including the recent bloodshed in Charlottesville, Virginia.
One person was killed and more than 30 injured when white supremacists and neo-Nazis clashed with counterdemonstrators Aug. 12 and a car plowed into the antiracist protesters.
“It’s tragic that what we are seeing on many of our streets across America are not images of 21st-century America, but pre-civil rights America,” said Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum of Temple Israel in Lawrence. “It’s a time to build bridges between our fellow Americans and not put up walls.”
Rabbi Charles Klein of the Merrick Jewish Centre said, “When we see Nazis and white supremacists threatening, intimidating, speaking hatred, the biblical lesson is we can’t be indifferent to that. They have to be confronted and they have to know that that kind of evil has no place in the society.”
Rosh Hashanah, which also marks the start of the period known to Jews as the High Holy Days, will begin with short prayers at synagogues, followed by nearly six-hour services on Thursday and Friday. Those services will include the traditional blowing of the shofar, a trumpet made from a ram’s horn.
The sound is meant to awaken the faithful symbolically from their “slumber” in preparation for the coming judgment.
Rosh Hashanah ends Friday just after sunset.
A week later, starting Friday at sundown, Jews will celebrate the holiest day of the year for the faithful: Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement.
Rosh Hashanah differs from secular New Year’s celebrations, defined not by partying but by intense self-reflection during which Jews think about how they have acted, seek forgiveness from those they have wronged, and dedicate themselves to living a better life.
Rabbi Howard Buechler of the Dix Hills Jewish Center said that he, too, plans to address world events during services.
“We’ve been shocked by the intolerance that we have seen and the hatred that we have seen,” he said. Still, “the shofar tells us that one voice can be heard above the din and the decibel levels of a lot of static.”
Lisa Mintz, a congregant at the Dix Hills synagogue, said that while she understands the focus on the anti-Semitic acts, she also will be thinking about positive things.
“I feel like that kind of news is what prevails,” she said, referring to negative acts. “I think that the smaller community good deeds that are going on aren’t seen enough, (or) publicized enough.”
Students in her synagogue’s religious education program, for instance, take turns making 200 sandwiches twice a month that are sent to a soup kitchen at Trinity Lutheran Evangelical Church in Wyandanch.
“It’s really a way of teaching the kids to look outside of themselves,” she said. “Here are neighbors who are 10 to 15 minutes away and don’t have food like they have food.”