Judaism’s High Holy Days begin at sunset on Sept. 9, with the celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. People of other faiths also participate in Rosh Hashanah rituals that include the blowing of the shofar, a ceremonial ram’s horn, eating sweets and asking forgiveness for past wrongs. This week’s clergy discuss how the holiday is observed in their homes and houses of worship.
Cantor Irene Failenbogen
The New Synagogue of Long Island, Brookville
Since I was 18, I have celebrated Rosh Hashanah by singing. The melodies and haunting prayers of the season fill my heart with longing and emotional vulnerability. The Hebrew word rosh means head, and thus Rosh Hashanah means the head of the year, the beginning of another cycle of 12 or 13 months in the lunar calendar.
In Kabalistic teachings, however, Rosh Hashanah also celebrates the opening of the gates of the spiritual world, where divinity lies. We are called to listen to voices and insights that are trying to enter our minds and hearts in a way that can be transformative and vital for the year ahead. Our everyday distractions sometimes block the flow of this connection with the creator, but on Rosh Hashanah we put our minds in an open and positive frame.
At home, my husband, the Rev. Bill McBride, and I light holiday candles and share delicious meals. We try to go together to services at shul, where we listen to the richness of the sounding of the shofar. This ancient sound always brings a lump in my throat as I remember my mom and family in my native Argentina, where spring is beginning as we in New York await fall. In whichever hemisphere we find ourselves, each sound of the shofar is an opportunity to reset our rosh in a new and meaningful way.
The Rev. Gordon C. Bailey
Minister, South Nassau Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Freeport
As Unitarian Universalists, we live out our lives in a largely interfaith way, open to the teachings of world religions that inspire and guide us, ethically and spiritually. This is why we celebrate Rosh Hashanah and other holy days that belong to Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Native-American and other faith traditions. We do so in the most respectful way, to learn, to study, to grow and to build a sense of common ground with everyone. The more we know of people’s practices and faiths, the more we are able to be in communion with others.
Celebrating Rosh Hashanah makes perfect sense to me. My garden is just about over for the year, it’s harvest time and a new season and new year are upon us.
The message of Rosh Hashanah, which is so important, is about being able to make atonement and ask for forgiveness, and to seek God’s blessing for another year of life. My life is built upon daily reflection, but I think for most people the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and other days that call us to pay attention to these things, are critically important. This is my first Rosh Hashanah with my new congregation, which includes people from a Jewish tradition. I hope we’ll be able to have the shofar blown along with the wonderful water communion to celebrate and consecrate the new congregational year.
Rabbi Anchelle Perl
Director, Chabad of Mineola
My celebration is a combination of the jarring and turbulent sounds of the shofar, with its underlying sounds of tranquility and renewal. We blow a series of piercing staccato bursts, sobbing and wailing sounds, sandwiched between the tekias — long, smooth and straight blasts.
Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of the universe, the day God created Adam and Eve. It’s therefore a time to revisit our own soul’s epic journey on Earth, and to learn from Adam and Eve that each of our actions makes a difference in the entire world. One of my favorite celebrations is to begin the meal on the first night with slices of apple dipped in honey. Cutting the apple horizontally across its center, rather than vertically, reveals 10 little green dots in a starlike shape, which, according to Jewish mystical teachings, represent the Ten Commandments. We pray that our lives in the New Year will be filled with the sweet blessings, the Torah and mitzvah good deeds.
My own Rosh Hashanah celebration is never complete unless I work hard to ensure that my wonderful congregation and their families, too, feel inspired and uplifted in their own lives into the New Year. The day’s celebration is really topped off when, together with my family, we walk to NYU Winthrop Hospital to blow the shofar at the bedsides of patients who couldn't make it to their own synagogues.