High Holy Days 5768

     The quality and character of the High Holy Days differ from all other holidays in the Jewish New Year. The ten day period beginning with Rosh Hashanah on the first of Tishri and concluding with Yom Kippur on the tenth of Tishri is known as Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe.
     These two holy days are not connected with any historical event, nor is the theme agricultural in nature as are all other festival holidays. The Yamim Noraim are the most personal of the Jewish holy days, speaking only incidentally to the community of Israel.
      The message is to each person as an individual, to search one's inner being, life style, values, and relationships with others. The noble ethical values of the Jewish people are held up as a yardstick through worship in the synagogue, but the responsibility ultimately remains with the individual. This concept requires each of us to exercise self-control, insight into ourselves, and the ability to make the necessary changes in our lives.
     Wednesday evening, Sept. 12
     Thursday, Sept. 13
      Rosh Hashanah, which literally means "head of the year," commemorates the anniversary of the creation of the world and is widely known as the New Year's Day of the Jewish calendar. It is also known as the Day of Judgment as Jews consider our past deeds and ask for forgiveness for our sins. It is a Day of Remembrance when we re-examine the history of our people and pray for Israel.
      The single most telling symbol of Rosh Hashanah is the blowing of the shofar,
     heralding the start of the High Holy Days. It is cloaked in layers of mysticism and homiletical interpretations over the centuries. Today, the sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah morning reminds us of the serious introspection demanded of us during the coming ten days. The calls of the tekiah, teruah, and shevarim have a bone-chilling effect, reaching to the marrow of the human soul.
      The liturgy contains the thought that on Rosh Hashanah the destiny of all humankind is recorded by God in the Book of Life. During and after Rosh Hashanah services, as we are praying and as we leave the synagogue we say:
     L'shanah tovah tikateivu.
     "May you be inscribed in the Book of Life."
     After Rosh Hashanah services, in the late afternoon, we go to the sea with bits of bread which we toss into the water to symbolically "cast away" our sins.
      We dip our apples in honey while families and friends enjoy holiday meals of foods sweetened with honey, apples, and carrots which are served to symbolize sweetness, blessings, abundance, and the hope for a sweet year ahead. The challah we eat, rather than being braided in its usual shape, is baked in a circular shape to symbolize the wish that the coming year will roll around smoothly, without unhappiness or sorrow.
     Friday evening, Sept. 21
     Saturday, Sept. 22
      Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement and refers to the annual observance of fasting, prayer and repentance. This is considered to be the holiest day in the Jewish calendar and is referred to as the Sabbath of Sabbaths. In three separate passages of the Torah, the Jewish people are told, "the tenth day of the seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be a sacred occasion for you: You shall practice self-denial" (Leviticus 23:27). Fasting is seen as fulfilling this biblical commandment.
      The Yom Kippur fast enables us to put aside our physical desires and to concentrate on our spiritual needs through prayer, repentance, and self-improvement. Traditionally, many things focused on the physical are restricted, so long as health isn't compromised: eating, drinking, washing, bathing, and using cosmetics or wearing leather shoes.
      It is customary in the days before Yom Kippur for Jews to seek out friends and family whom they have wronged and personally ask for their forgiveness. We repent in synagogue for our sins against God, but are meant to atone for sins against other people before the holiday, asking anyone we've sinned against for forgiveness. That person does not have to grant our request, but we are considered to have repented if we are sincere in the asking.
      The feeling of Yom Kippur is not one of mourning, but rather one of seriousness. The Kol Nidre chant on Erev Yom Kippur sets the tone for the day of fasting and soul-searching. More a legal formula than a prayer, it expresses the idea that a person's plans and promises, no matter how earnest, cannot always be fulfilled. In the coming year - as in the past year - promises made to God by the worshipper may be wiped clean from the slate. However, those commitments made to one's fellow human beings are not so easily eradicated; this is an issue between individual people.
      The Hebrew word chet is usually translated in English as "sin." This, however, is not a translation which carries the message of the Hebrew. Chet has its origins in archery, and the term is used to indicate "missing the mark." Such is the Jewish concept of sin - the missing of one's goal, losing sight of the important things in life.
      Among those sins spelled out for the congregation are; sinning through word of mouth, abuse of power, disrespect of parents and teachers, and exploitation of one's neighbor.
      The most poignant moment of the day comes in the Neilah Service, during the very last moments of Yom Kippur, as the sun's shadow covers more and more of the earth. Our liturgy states "Thou desirest not the death of the sinner, but that the sinner returns to Thee and live. Wide open are the gates of forgiveness to all who truly seek to be reconciled with Thee."
      The liturgy continues "trusting in Thy gracious promise, we have come before Thee, conscious of guilt, yearning for Thine altars of peace. Condemned by the judge within us, we reflect on a life misused and filled with regrets, on opportunities neglected, and resolutions come to naught."
      Then, as if in a final reminder, the great call of the shofar is sounded, and the Yamim Noraim come to a close.
     15 Tishri through 22 Tishri
     September 26 - October 3
      Every symbol and message of the Succoth series of holidays combines to make the Jews conscious of nature and the world in which they live. In a sense, Succoth is the holiday of ecology par excellence.
      Steeped in the agricultural origins of the people Israel, in biblical times Succoth represented the ingathering of the autumnal harvest. As the Jewish people evolved through history from a nation of farmers to a nation of scholars and city-dwellers, the essential celebration of God's universe manifested itself increasingly in observances and rituals which reminded the Jews of the world of nature from which they had become increasingly insulated. Thus, Succoth is truly a festival for modern people yearning to return to agricultural origins, yet prevented from doing so by the walls of advancing technology rising ever higher.
      Tradition refers to Succoth as The Chag - The Festival. Perhaps the rabbis of ancient days assigned this name to the holiday because in it are embodied the essential values of Jewish living. With Succoth's appearance five days after Yom Kippur, it is not difficult to understand why the Jewish tradition chose to capitalize on the heightened sensitivity developed during the High Holy Day period.
      Two essential symbols pervade Succoth. First, the thatched, flimsy hut built, our tradition says, in commemoration of the rapidly built shelters required by desert wanderings. But philosophers Philo and Maimonides demurred from this ancient legend.
     They said that the Sukkah was built to remind the comfortable, secure Jew of the misfortunes of those in poverty and want. The temporary quality of the Sukkah was to be a yearly reminder that security in real estate is ephemeral; that real security lies in love of humankind and appreciation of God's universe. This enduring message of The Festival leads increasing numbers of Jews to build Sukkot in their yards, so that daily, through the eight days of The Festival - no matter what the weather conditions - they might be reminded of the world of nature from which we have unfortunately become estranged.
      The second symbol of Sukkoth is the lulav and etrog which comprises four species. The Midrash speaks of the etrog (the citron) as having both taste and aroma, representing those Jews who have knowledge of Torah and do good deeds. The palm (one of the three species in the lulav) represents the date, a fruit which has taste but no aroma, symbolizing those who know Torah, but do not practice good deeds. The myrtle, the second component of the lulav, has aroma but no taste, representing those Jews who do not know Torah, but practice good deeds. The willow, the last of the lulov components, with neither taste nor aroma, symbolizes Jews who neither know Torah nor practice good deeds.
      Thus, the essential elements of Succoth, while observed in the synagogue, must equally be observed by the Jew at home.
      The last day of Succoth - Shemini Atzeret, the Eighth Day of Assembly - returns the focus of the festival to the synagogue. Reform congregations usually combine the final day of Succoth with the observance of Simchat Torah, the festival of the Rejoicing in the Torah. On this day, the annual cycle of the reading of the Torah scroll is completed; the last verses of the Book of Deuteronomy are read. Immediately following, the first lines of the Book of Genesis are begun, thus reminding us of the continuing process of Jewish study.
      Great joy reigns in the synagogue as the Torah scrolls are paraded around the sanctuary. Flags are distributed to children who march in festive procession and many are called for the privilege of reading and reciting blessings over the Torah.
      Thus, in its eight joyous days, Succoth illustrates love of learning, return to nature, and sensitivity to the needs of every living thing that Jewish tradition requires.
      Succoth is, truly, The Festival.
      High Holy Day melodies are very different from the familiar Shabbat service melodies. The music has a large range and usually does not sound like "happy" music. At times High Holy Day music sounds "anguished" and "sad" to reflect the solemnity of the Days of Awe. In contrast, Shabbat music reflects the joy of our day of rest and our time together with family. It is quite different in mood and temperament.
      The specific Messianic tunes that we sing during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were developed partly in response to the Christian Crusades of the 11th to 13th centuries. There had been a decay of the spiritual focus of German Jewry due to these mass crusades and throughout the Middle Ages there was a devastation of the Jewish people.
      In the 14th century, the great German scholar, Rabbi and Cantor Jacob Molin established a law to restore traditional customs and melodies which were not to be altered in the Ashkenazic Jewish world. These tunes, mostly sung on the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, were referred to as "coming from Sinai." Rabbi Molin understood the power of music and knew that if these melodies, with their evocative capabilities, were altered, the congregants would be deprived of the full emotional experience that the High Holy Days should provide.
      With the growth of western musical influence, synagogue music changed, especially in the Germany of Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert's days. The Liberal German synagogues now hired choirs and commissioned composers to create works for the synagogue which would be on a comparable level to the secular music of the day.
     Many works of Louis Lewandowsky, for example, are reminiscent of secular composers such as Felix Mendelssohn. The challenge for these synagogue composers was to fuse the traditional requirements of synagogue music with what the ears of the day expected and enjoyed. Sometimes, they went further towards the latter, but they never tampered with Rabbi Molin's "Sinai tunes." Many of these melodies are still used today.
      Yom Kippur starts with the haunting chant of Kol Nidre which means "all vows." Kol Nidre precedes our worship because, rather than a prayer, it is considered a legal formula – the nullification of vows – and we are prohibited from conducting business on the holiday.
      Kol Nidre, written about the 9th century, is a mixture of Hebrew and the then vernacular Aramaic. Traditionally Kol Nidre is chanted three times. The threefold repetition is most likely derived from the ancient practice of reciting all official proclamations three times.
      There have been many different melodies for Kol Nidre. According to a popular myth, the melody we use today was composed by a 9th century Spaniard. No one knows for certain, and the music's origin remains a mystery.
     Note: Please see Coming Events for a complete list of High Holy Day services and events.
     Rabbi Arthur F. Starr
     Cantorial Soloist Diane Becker Krasnick
     Helen Goldman, President
     The Officers and Board of Representatives of
     The Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas
     Katina Coulianos, Immediate Past President
     Greg Ebenholtz, Vice-President
     Trudie Prior, Treasurer
     Liza Margolis, Secretary/Sisterhood Representative
     Board Members:
     Marilyn Blackhall, Jeff Chase,
     Penny Feuerzeig, Dick Golden, Alexandra Laing, Agnes Rampino, and Harvey Werbel
     extend best wishes to you and your loved ones
     for a joyful, healthy, and fulfilling New Year, 5768.
     We look forward to seeing you and greeting you personally.