Forgiveness, festivity amid Rosh Hashana

Tuesday, October 4, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:01 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 5, 2008

“In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall be a solemn rest unto you, a memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns, a holy convocation.” Leviticus 23:24

Rebecca Smith was at Congregation Beth Shalom on Friday to drop off decorative crowns for the Torah scrolls she had just finished polishing in preparation for the synagogue’s Rosh Hashana services Monday night. It was the continuation of a family tradition, Smith said, remembering the way her mother shined the family’s candlesticks for the two-day holiday. Rosh Hashana marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year.

“These are the holidays when Jews come together in a big way, so we pull together to make it the most festive and meaningful,” Smith said.

According to the Torah, the Jewish holy book, man was created on the first day of the month of Tishri, the first day of Rosh Hashana. While Rosh Hashana is a joyous holiday, it is also a time to amend wrongs done in the past year, the time when God passes judgment on each person’s actions.

“I like the opportunity to feel introspective,” Smith said. “I know I messed up all year, but am allowed to do better. I need to know that I am forgiven.”

Amy Damashek, who is involved with the Hillel Foundation at MU, agrees. She said Rosh Hashana inspires her to improve herself. By reflecting on her life over the past year, she can see what she has done well and what she should do better in the year to come.

Smith spent time Monday helping decorate the sanctuary at First Baptist Church, where Congregation Beth Shalom has held its Rosh Hashana and other holy day services for the past eight years.

“It’s very mature to allow another religion to take over your sanctuary,” said Rabbi Yossi Feintuch. “It takes love and integrity.”

Traditionally, many Jewish families have dinner the night before Rosh Hashana begins, feasting on sweet foods and telling stories. The meal starts with apples and challah, the bread eaten on Sabbath, dipped in honey to commemorate the expected sweetness of the year ahead.

Smith, a member of Congregation Beth Shalom since 1976, is excited this year because there is a new grandson in her family. Her other grandchildren are finally old enough, she said, to understand the reason for the celebration and the traditions and to share in the joy of family stories that have been passed down through the generations.

One tradition special to Smith is helping to prepare for the Rosh Hashana service by polishing the silver on the decorative crowns that are placed on the handles of the Torah scrolls. Bells attached to the Torah are modeled after the vestments of the high priest who would make sacrifices in the Temple of Israel before it was destroyed. The bells are made to attract attention when the Torah is brought out for reading.

Today, the first full day of Rosh Hashana, Feintuch will read and teach the story of creation as related in the Torah.

“Torah is centered on our own quest to create and model ourselves after divinity,” Feintuch said. “Perhaps this is the meaning of the verse in our narrative, ‘And God said, “Let us make humankind in our model, according to our mold.”’”

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