Jews preparing for `Days of Awe'

Rabbi Shmuly Rothman of Chabad House-Lubavitch demonstrates the sounding of the shofar, which signals the beginning of the High Holy Days.
Rabbi Shmuly Rothman of Chabad House-Lubavitch demonstrates the sounding of the shofar, which signals the beginning of the High Holy Days.

Jews around the world will spend time reflecting on the miracle of creation and expressing their gratitude for the chance to “turn a new leaf” when the High Holy Days begin next weekend.

Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, commences at Sundown on Friday and continues for two days. The holy days last for 10 days, ending with Yom Kippur, which this year falls on Sept. 16. The span between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is known as the “Days of Awe.”

“These are days in which we turn over a new leaf,” said Rabbi Edward Garsek of Congregation Etz Chayim. “We look at it as a fresh start.”

He said Rosh Hashana is “a wakeup call,” which is one reason that the holiday includes the sounding of the shofar, or ram's horn. Normally the shofar is blown at the start of Rosh Hashana, but because the holy day falls this year on a Saturday, the Jewish sabbath, the horn will not be sounded until Sunday.

A natural wind-blown instrument, the shofar is one of the oldest instruments in history. The Bible records tales of the shofar being sounded in battle to intimidate the enemy, to declare war, and to call assemblies.

“It's to tell us to try to be better people and to modify our behavior,” Rabbi Garsek said.

The High Holy Days are times for both celebration and reflection.

“It's festive because we're thankful that God is so kind and he lets us say we're sorry and he lets us have a good day,” said Rabbi Yossi Shemtov of Chabad House-Lubavitch. “And it's a day of judgment when God sits on the throne.

Among the customs of Rosh Hashana is Tashlich, which means to cast off, Rabbi Shemtov said. Members of Chabad House will walk to a nearby stream on Sunday evening and cast their sins into the water.

The High Holy Days build up to Yom Kippur, a day that grants forgiveness for wrongdoings, Rabbi Garsek said.

If a person has had an argument with someone or has offended another person, they need to make amends during the holy days, the rabbi said.

“Even though it's very important to come to the synagogue and to pray, the sages of old and the modern scholars emphasize that before we come to the synagogue we need to make peace with other people,” Rabbi Garsek said.

In an unfortunate sign of the times, the rabbi said, security will be increased this year at local synagogues.

Tickets will be required for admission to services at Congregation Etz Chayim and Congregation B'nai Israel, and the Temple-Congregation Shomer Emunim will set up tables where members and guests will need to be verified.

“We live in very difficult times,” Rabbi Garsek said. “It's not even a year since 9-11. We know that foreign people who were not even legally in this country killed over 3,000 of our citizens. We have to be on the lookout every place.”