PLATTSBURGH — The Torahs’ vibrant covers will be switched out for rich, white covers emblazoned with gold thread, Hebrew script and the Shield of David during the High Holidays at Temple Beth Israel.
The two-day observance of Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday, Sept. 4, at sundown. Translated from the Hebrew, it means “Head of the Year” and references the start of the Jewish year.
On Friday and Saturday, Sept. 13 and 14, Jews observe Yom Kippur, “Day of Atonement,” which commemorates God’s forgiveness of Jews for the sin, creation and worship of the Golden Calf.
The High Holidays, also known as Days of Awe, are Jews’ most important holiday season.
“The only other thing that comes close is Passover,” said Rabbi Kari Tuling of Temple Beth Israel in Plattsburgh.
“Wednesday through Friday is the celebration of the New Year for the Jewish calendar. The Jewish calendar is built on a lunar cycle that is corrected according to the solar cycle. It’s a very old calendar that dates back before the Middle Ages.”
New Year rituals include the congregation crowning of God as sovereign.
“It’s a way of acknowledging that God is in control of our lives in the sense that we don’t get to determine how long or under what circumstances we live and die. Some things are in our control. Whether or not we sin is in our control,” Tuling said.
There is a 10-day period of reflection prior to Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement.
“We ask forgiveness for having fallen short of the mark. What is supposed to happen (is) if you committed a sin that involved another person, you have to go and ask that person’s forgiveness. And then, you ask forgiveness of God. That’s why you need the period of refection, so you can think (of) who you need to call. Who do I need to set things right with? It may seem strange to have New Year and ask for forgiveness 10 days into it. The reason for that is in the New Year, we are acknowledging God as in charge. If I’m not the one running things and I answer to someone, then I should set things straight,” Tuling said.
“Judaic liturgy talks about this time, metaphorically, as how God determines what your life span will be in the coming year. Who will live and who will die. You should live as if that is true. It’s a way of bringing you in contact with your mortality, and (it) recognizes the need to be upright and honorable with your interactions with other people.”
Midrash is rabbinic commentary from the ancient sages, such as:
“Repent one day before you die.”
“How do you know when you are going to die?”
“Then, you better do it today.”
“These guys lived just after the destruction of the second temple during the first through seventh century in the Common Era,” Tuling said.
During the Days of Awe, families dine together before attending evening services.
The Thursday morning service on Sept. 5 is followed by a festive lunch at the temple.
Next, there is a riverside ritual, Tashlich, where congregants symbolically cast their sins into the water.
“Sometimes, you feed the ducks bread. You’re throwing away and stating, ‘It’s done.’ It’s not literal. It’s a good way to remind yourself, ‘I’m done with it,’” Tuling said.
On Sept. 6, there are services observed only by traditional Jews not living in Israel.
“If you live in exile from the land, you do this,” Tuling said.
The ancient Aramaic song “Kol Nidrei” is a highlight during Yom Kippur.
“People love to hear it. It’s actually kind of a funny thing. It’s a legal transaction. What happens (is) we take all the Torahs out of the Ark; they serve as if they were judges in a court of law. They represent the three judges. We make the declaration that if we have made a vow we have forgotten about and couldn’t keep, we should be released from them. You’re accountable for everything, even the ones you forgot,” Tuling said.
This is part of the spiritual house cleaning.
“You have really set your accounts in order in a very real way,” Tuling said. “The speculation is that it might have started when there was converso, when Jews were forcibly converted to another religion. For Jews converted under duress, it was a way for them to return to the synagogue if they wanted to. It releases them from the vow they made to the other religion, and they come in and pray as Jews. That’s something from the Middle Ages. Now, it’s just a really pretty melody.”
Such ancient songs are called “Mi Sinai,” meaning from Mount Sinai.
“One of the things Moses brought down from the mountain,” Tuling said.
During the Days of Awe, congregants pray with texts and songs that are ancient, modern and everything in between.
“It’s exciting and fun,” she said.
Yom Kippur is observed sundown to sundown. Congregants fast all day and break their fast at the temple with bagels, lox, egg salad, tuna fish and herring.
“This is a European-Jewish menu, what most American Jews are,” Tuling said. “There are other menus out there.”
Ashkenazi is the Hebrew word for Jews of Eastern Europe and Germany. Sefardi refers to Jews from Spain, North Africa and the Middle East.
“It’s a difference in what to eat,” Tuling said.
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