PLATTSBURGH — The shofar, a hollowed-out horn from a kosher animal, aurally frames the 10 Days of Awe, the Jewish High Holy Days, which begin with Rosh Hashanah and end with Yom Kippur.
In Hebrew, Rosh (head) and Hashanah (year), or New Year, starts Sunday at sundown with the blowing of the shofar.
“A ram’s horn is most common,” said Rabbi Kari Tuling of Temple Beth Israel in Plattsburgh. “It can’t be decorated or added to. It makes quite the sound. We blow it quite a bit during Rosh Hashanah morning service. It’s a big deal that way. There are several different tones we blow during the service.”
One tone is long and mournful. A second comprises three short notes. A third tone has nine-staccato notes.
“Trumpet players tend to be the most successful at it. I have learned how to do it. It’s hard. You just have to practice. Some people seem to have a gift for it. Some people practice and practice and sound terrible,” Tuling said.
If a shofar player executes a long sustained note for a really, really long time, they are considered a fine shofar player.
MAKING THINGS RIGHT
“The point of that (shofar) is to awaken your heart to recognize that you need to prepare yourself to be judged,” Tuling said. “Your deeds for the year have been judged. You have to figure out how to make things right. If you have wronged someone, you apologize and restore whatever needs to be restored.”
During the Days of Awe, God judges a person’s fate for the coming year.
“It’s more an idea of thinking in those terms. You prepare yourself beyond your day-to-day existence. Is your life worthy of being judged favorably? This is the time of year you take stock. You go back and call and say, ‘I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.’ It’s our biggest holiday. It takes a lot of emotional preparation,” Tuling said.
The month prior to the High Holy Days is spent in reflection.
“You spend a lot of time thinking about repentance, sin and let go of past behaviors that are damaging or hurtful,” Tuling said.
CASTING AWAY SINS
“This holiday, in addition, is gorgeous,” she said. “It has some of the best music of the year. It has the greatest participation of any of our holidays. We see our largest crowd.”
Sunday evening, a service similar to a regular evening service is held, but with much grander music.
“The liturgy, itself, has themes about sin and repentance in it. In that regard, what is different is the sermons are longer. I have been writing them for months. People wish each other a good New Year, Shanah Tovah,” Tuling said.
The service is followed by a holiday feast, which includes apples and honey, indicative of a good New Year. The round apple symbolizes the year, and honey symbolizes extra sweetness during the year.
On the second day of the Days of Awe, the shofar blasts.
“That’s a morning service. As part of the service, we do a lot of what normally happens,” Tuling said.
The Torah is read, a sermon is delivered, and there is more grand music.
“We have Shofar Service, 99 blasts. We go down to the river and cast bread, symbolically casting sins into the water. Fish and ducks love when we cast off our sins,” she said.
RETURNING TO GOD
From the third day to the eighth day, everyone’s schedule returns to normal.
Shabbat (Sabbath) is held Friday night through Saturday.
“We celebrate every Friday. It’s always a big deal. The one between (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) has a special name and gets a special liturgy. It’s Shabbat Shuvah (Sabbath of Return), returning to God. The loaves of bread are round this time of year to symbolize the year,” Tuling said.
RELEASED FROM VOWS
The High Holy Days concludes with Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) on Sept. 25.
“In the evening, there is a special part of the service called Kol Nidre, All Vows. Technically, it’s a legal proceeding allowing you to repent for vows you made that you could not keep so you cannot get punished for not keeping them. It’s a way of being released from them, so you can actually make things better instead of being continually under the shadow of them. We take vows very seriously,” she said.
Never swear by God for something you don’t mean to do.
“You shouldn’t take the name of the Lord in vain. We take God very seriously. This releases you and that you learn from your mistake and not do that again. It has a song (‘Kol Nidre’) that’s really quite beautiful,” Tuling said.
BACK ON TRACK
Congregation members start fasting at sundown on Yom Kippur and continue fasting until sundown the next day.
“You shouldn’t eat anything more than one olive,” she said.
For medical reasons, some Jews do not participate, especially pregnant women.
“The next day, you have service pretty much all day. You don’t want to go home while you’re fasting. The services are to repent and let go of your sins and to accept the sovereignty of God. Essentially, things that are not in your control. It teaches humility. It helps you get back on track,” Tuling said.
Yom Kippur offers observers the chance to take stock of their lives, where they are and where they are going.
“You don’t know that you’re going to live another year,” Tuling said. “What would you do knowing this is your last one? What are you going to do?”
The shofar’s long blasts signal the end of the Days of Awe.
Email Robin Caudell:
TO LEARN MORE WHAT: Days of Awe, High Holy Days WHERE: Temple Beth Israel, 1 Bowman Street, Plattsburgh. CONTACT: Questions may be directed to Rabbi Kari Tuling at 563-3343 or email@example.com. WEBSITE: www.beth israelplattsburgh.org