Jews in Lawrence and around the world are preparing for the High Holy Days.
The whole world, it seems, is caught up in millennium fever.
But for the next 10 days, Jews everywhere will pause to celebrate the New Year 5760 on the Jewish calendar, reflect on the year that has passed and rededicate themselves to becoming better people.
Rosh Hashana -- the Jewish New Year -- will start at sunset this evening, marking the start of the Ten Days of Repentance, a period of self-examination that will conclude with Yom Kippur -- the Day of Atonement -- on Sept. 20.
Rabbi Judith Beiner, who works part time at the Lawrence Jewish Community Center, 917 Highland Dr., explained the difference between Rosh Hashana and the New Year's festivities of Dec. 31.
"Contrary to the way we look at the secular New Year, which is a fun, celebratory time, Rosh Hashana is a more contemplative time of renewal and celebration. The day is marked with a festival meal with family and friends," she said.
LJCC members celebrate Rosh Hashana for two days, holding services tonight, Saturday morning and evening and Sunday morning.
Congregations celebrate Rosh Hashana either one or two days, depending upon their affiliation with different movements -- Orthodox, Conservative and Reform -- within Judaism.
"We're supposed to eat sweet things to commemorate the existence of a sweet New Year. We eat apples with honey, and change the shape of our challah (bread) from braided to round. Round is the symbol of the circle of life, and round is the shape of the world," Beiner said.
"We also blow the shofar -- a ram's horn. The sounding of the shofar is a call to us to better ourselves through the act of repentance, and a commitment to improve ourselves through good deeds (mitzvoth)."
The Ten Days of Repentance -- the interval between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur -- is a time for introspection about the last year and the year ahead.
It's an intensive period of repentance to prepare for Yom Kippur, a time to make amends with people you might have hurt in the last year -- and with God.
"Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. It begins at sundown (Sept. 19). It's a day of fasting, spent in synagogue praying. It's a day where we as a community come to repent for our sins. At the day's conclusion, we hopefully are absolved of our sins, and we break our fast," Beiner explained.
"Throughout the year, we make all kinds of promises that we wind up not keeping for whatever reason. Kol Nidre (a sacred chant) absolves us of the vows we've made and not kept through the last year."
Yom Kippur, Beiner noted, is the most attended synagogue service throughout the world. For Jews, it is the holiest day of the year.
It's a somber day, as well.
"It's not sad, but it is a day we take seriously. The idea of the penitential season is that we have atoned for our past sins, we have resolved to do better, and we hopefully have brought ourselves to a point where we can begin transformation," Beiner said.
"We get a chance every single year to transform ourselves. We don't have to live with guilt eternally. Every year we have a chance to improve ourselves, to grow, to transform ourselves into better people."
-- Jim Baker's phone message number is 832-7173; his e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.