Jews start taking a moral inventory and asking for forgiveness before Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
By GAIL HOLLENBECK
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 15, 2001
BEVERLY HILLS -- Prepations, both spiritual and physical, are under way by the local Jewish community for the High Holy Days this month. Beginning with Rosh Hashana, the entrance of the Jewish year 5762 means a solemn time of soul searching and repentance that ends with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
The Selichot service last Saturday at midnight set the stage for the days to follow, according to Rabbi Zvi Ettinger, who leads Congregation Beth Sholom in Beverly Hills.
"The entire month preceding Rosh Hashana is a time for people to look into their souls and to start finding out where they have to make changes," he said.
"Selichot is what puts you in the mood. It's like preparing yourself to go meet the president of the United States. For a whole month you were picking your suits and shirts and dresses and so forth. Then you get there and meet the protocol officer, who tells you what you can and cannot say and what you should do. So Selichot is like the final meeting before meeting the president. It's the penitential prayer where we not only look into our own souls and activities but we begin to realize we've made mistakes and we'd better start getting into the practice of asking for forgiveness. It's the introduction to the High Holy Days."
Rosh Hashana ushers in the new year beginning at sundown on Monday. Unlike the traditional new year celebrations of most nations, the Jewish new year is a solemn festival.
"The most awesome of the names (for Rosh Hashana) is Yom Hadin, Day of Judgment. It is based on our teaching that on this day the Almighty determines the future course of events for every living individual and creature for the coming year," the rabbi said. "Our tradition instructs us that on Rosh Hashana, the judgment for all existence is written down in the heavenly scroll.
"We also believe that it may still be changed during the 10 days from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur inclusive. These 10 days are called Assers Y'may Teshuvah, the 10 Days of Penitence. At the conclusion of Yom Kippur, however, the judgment is sealed."
Another name used for Rosh Hashana is the Feast of Trumpets. Congregation Beth Sholom will participate in the blowing of the shofar, or ram's horn, as part of its ceremonies.
Some in the congregation will participate in a Tashlich service. Ettinger will do so with his family on the first full day of Rosh Hashana by taking them to a place where there is flowing water to do a symbolic casting out of their sins.
The Saturday between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is the Sabbath of Repentance, said the rabbi. There will be a special sermon and prayers.
On Sunday, Sept. 23, there will be a special memorial service at 10 a.m. at Memorial Gardens in Beverly Hills for members to remember their loved ones.
"Jews usually go to the cemetery where loves ones are buried, but sometimes we can't get to those, so we go to Memorial Gardens and have special prayers that are recited. We have a fine attendance and we have a special memorial service and each one includes paragraphs that pertain to their loved ones who have passed away, because this is considered hallowed ground," he said.
Yom Kippur begins at sundown Sept. 26. The most solemn day of the Jewish year, it was the only time in biblical days when the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies in the temple.
Ettinger explained the significance of Yom Kippur in a release:
"The spirit of Yom Kippur finds its paramount expression in the synagogue, where young and old assemble to participate in divine worship, to ask the Almighty through fasting, prayer and charity for forgiveness for our sins.
"Our sages and biblical commentators have expressed the opinion that Yom Kippur M'Chapare, as soon as Yom Kippur is ushered in, God forgives us the sins that we had committed against him. The sins committed against another human being, however, require forgiveness from the person against whom we had sinned."
Prayer, penitence and charity are still needed to wash away our soiled souls, the rabbi said.
Attendance for the Holy Days is expected to be high, said Ettinger, whose congregation has between 150 and 200 members. Visitors are also expected to attend.
"If we had an attendance the rest of the year like we have on these days, you would have very happy rabbis throughout the country," he said.