MANATEE — The Jewish High Holy Days commence at sundown Wednesday, beginning a 10-day period of reflection and atonement.
It’s a time when Jews place a burden on themselves to think about how they have acted during the year and, if need be, take steps to correct problems.
It is said that God is seated on a throne during these days, before books containing the deeds of all.
But those deeds, or misdeeds, are not yet written in stone and can be altered if we ask forgiveness for the injustices we have done to our fellow man during the year, re-establish our relationship with God by praying to Him and by bestowing charity upon those we may not even know, said Rabbi Harold Caminker of Temple Beth El.
“We are taught that our prayers on the High Holy Days take care of our relationship with God, but our human relationships are up to us to maintain and repair as needed,” Caminker said.
Allan Weissman, a member of Temple Beth El, puts it succinctly:
“Our fate is determined by our deeds.”
Says Rabbi Mendy Bukiet of Chabad of Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch:
“A New Year means a new beginning and a fresh start.”
These introspective holidays begin at sundown Wednesday with Rosh Hashanah, which translates as the Jewish New Year or the Days of Judgment.
Rosh Hashanah is celebrated through Sept. 10 and is a prelude to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which begins Sept. 17 with Kol Nidre and continues Sept. 18.
It is said that the judgments that come down from God’s book on Rosh Hashanah are not etched in stone until Yom Kippur.
“The goal of our observance of Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is to let God into our minds and hearts,” said Rena Morano, service leader and education director of Congregation Ner Tamid. “In order to make room for a higher spiritual awareness, we have to empty ourselves of the negative and nonsensical stuff that has filled up our thoughts. We meditate, we pray and we reflect. How can we be better people? How can we help to make the world a better place?”
During the High Holy Days, Jews blow the shofar, or ram’s horn, to become aware of one’s responsibilities, Morano said.
A celebration called tashlikh is renewed, when sins are cast into open water.
Jews will also fast off and on during the holidays.
The High Holy Days have an impact on children as well as adults.
“I feel the greatness of our faith and the importance of being with family,” said 9-year-old Erik Polin, a member of Temple Beth El.
Weissman recalls that in 1957, when he was a young captain and dentist in the U.S. Air Force stationed at Lake Charles Air Force Base in Louisiana, there was a rabbi who changed his life on the High Holidays.
“He was a little, frail man named Rabbi Jerome Mark,” Weissman said.
Mark came to the base to lead High Holy Day services for Jews, but hardly anyone came, Weissman said. Weissman, who was then non-observant, felt badly for Mark and attended the services.
“When Rabbi Mark opened his mouth, a voice with the power of Moses came forth,” Weissman said. “I realized my Jewish roots and my responsibility.”
Weissman went on from there to a lifetime love affair with his faith, culminating with 1,800 hours of work creating a group of brilliantly colorful stained glass windows for Temple Beth El in 1997.
Some of those windows are still in the synagogue today.
A plain-speaking man, the Brooklyn-born Weissman sums up the High Holy Days and perhaps what it means to be a human with this:
“I told my son: Don’t visit my grave when I die. Go into a tavern and raise a toast that goes, ‘Here’s to my old man. He won’t be forgotten because he was a good friend to many.’ To not be forgotten is all we can ask for in this life.”
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.