Jews take stock, make atonement at high holidays
By LINDA M. LINONIS
Rabbi Saul Oresky described the High Holidays as a time “to take stock and do soul searching.”
The spiritual leader of Congregation Ohev Tzedek Shaarei-Torah explained that the High Holidays season “is a progression.” It begins with Rosh Hashanah, he said, which literally means “head of the year.” Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, begins at sundown tonight.
The High Holidays conclude with Yom Kippur, Oct. 12.
Rabbi Oresky said just as people celebrate New Year’s in a secular way, the idea of a new beginning is part of the Jewish religious observance. “It’s about change and confronting who you are and what you are doing,” he said. “This is a time to seek atonement. People must make things right with God and those they may have wronged by asking forgiveness.”
“The process begins,” Rabbi Oresky said, “during the month of Elul, which immediately precedes Rosh Hashanah.”
Sounding the shofar, the hollowed out ram’s horn, is an integral element of Rosh Hashanah services. At Ohev Tzedek, Rabbi Oresky and Talia Hagler both handle that assignment.
“It is the principal non-verbal sound of the High Holidays,” Rabbi Oresky said of the shofar.
Hagler, a member of the synagogue about four years, said she first blew the shofar as a child. Hagler said she grew up in San Diego and belonged
to a synagogue with a large congregation. “It had at least a thousand people. I would never have had the chance to sound the shofar there,” she said.
But, she continued, being part of a smaller congregation affords such opportunities. Hagler said Rabbi Daria Jacobs-Velde, who previously served the congregation, enlisted her. “She told me I looked like the kind of person who could sound the shofar,” Hagler recalled. Though she grew up hearing the shofar blown, Hagler said she “had to practice” to participate in services.
Rabbi Oresky said sounding the shofar is “more about rhythm than tones.” He added that at the end of a series of tones, the person sounding the shofar aims for a “lifting” note at the end.
“This fits my skill set,” Hagler said. “I like to be able to participate in this way.”
Hagler, who said she played the clarinet, said knowing how to play the trumpet could be more useful with the shofar. “The technique doesn’t involve blowing but pursing your lips ... like you would with a trumpet,” she explained.
The sound each shofar makes is determined by the length of the horn and its shape. “The single long note that begins and ends each set of soundings is called a tekiah. The pattern of three tones is called shevarim, which means broken, and the nine-note pattern, made up of three triplets, is called teruah,” the rabbi explained.
Rabbi Oresky explained that the shofar is used during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
“At Rosh Hashanah, it is the wake-up call to repentance. It is the sound to do battle with your sinfulness,” he said. “At Yom Kippur, the shofar is only sounded at the end.”
“A special prayer book, called a Mahzor, is used on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.”
The culmination of the Days of Awe begins with the ancient Kol Nidre prayer. Rabbi Oresky said participants “acknowledge that they will try to fulfill their vows but realize they may fail because they are human.” This prayer, the rabbi said, notes that people “will do their best but may not succeed.”
“Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is imagined as the time when God writes in the Book of Life and seals it at the end of the day. We greet each other with the blessing that they might be written and sealed in the Book of Life,” Rabbi Oresky explained.
“We should come away with a feeling of being cleansed and rejuvenated,” Rabbi Oresky said. “We should have a greater commitment to being positive in our lives.”
In Judaism, the High Holidays begin the year 5777. It’s tradition, the rabbi said, to eat foods to ensure a sweet new year. These include slices of apples dipped in honey. A round challah is eaten rather than the normal braided one used for the Sabbath, symbolizing the crown of God’s kingship.