Archive for Saturday, August 31, 2002

Jews ready to celebrate holidays

August 31, 2002

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For millions of Jews around the world, Friday marks the beginning of the holiest time of year on the Jewish calendar  the Ten Days of Awe, also known as the High Holidays.

Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, will start at sundown Friday. Conservative and Orthodox Jews celebrate the holiday for two days, until nightfall Sunday, while Reform Jews celebrate Rosh Hashana for one day, until nightfall Saturday.

For Jews, Sept. 7 will be the first day of the year 5,763.

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, starts at sundown Sept. 15 and ends at sundown Sept. 16.

Rosh Hashana, which celebrates the creation of the world, is a joyous holiday marked by blasts from the shofar  a ram's horn  prayer and festive meals with family and friends.

Yom Kippur, meanwhile, is a somber holiday of fasting, soul searching and the seeking of forgiveness for transgressions against God and other people.

Collectively, the Ten Days of Awe are a time of contemplation and reflection of the year that has passed, ending with Yom Kippur, the day on which Jews believe God seals their fate for the year to come.

"The Ten Days of Awe are a period of repentance and introspection. The shofar (blown on Rosh Hashana) is considered the wakeup call to repent and to reflect upon oneself," said Rabbi Scott White of the Lawrence Jewish Community Center, 917 Highland Drive.

"In addition to being considered the wakeup call, the shofar is a symbol of impeccable faith. It comes from the ram, which is the animal that Abraham offered (for sacrifice) in place of his son Isaac. What Abraham did in those circumstances was a paradigm of impeccable faith."

Spiritual cleansing

White described Yom Kippur as a somber day of spiritual cleansing, when Jews who are 13 or older are required to fast from twilight to twilight.

But the dispensation to compromise the fast is very liberal  Jews who need to eat or drink for health reasons, such as the taking of medicine with food, are excused.

"I find (fasting) a very powerful experience. It has a way of concentrating one's attention. We take an entire day out of our busy lives to concentrate entirely on the self, and on the side of the self we don't like to look at," White said.

"The ultimate outcome is that it can make life more pleasant, in the communal sense, if people really do the work on their character. You can come away with a better understanding of yourself."

The High Holidays are a time of deep spiritual significance for the Jewish community.

Even Jews who rarely attend worship services during the rest of the year are likely to be found in synagogue on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

"For most Jews, this is the high point of the year. For Jews who do almost nothing else (to practice their religion), everybody does that," said Jay Lewis, executive director of the Kansas University Hillel Foundation, 940 Miss.

KU Hillel is the school's outreach organization to the university's 1,500 to 1,800 Jewish students.

Lewis described Rosh Hashana as a joyous celebration, a time for new beginnings. On this holiday, Jews traditionally eat apples and honey to symbolize a sweet new year.

Yom Kippur has a more somber nature.

"It's a day you spend in synagogue thinking about your life, anything you have done as far as transgressions against God and other people. You take stock of your life and decisions you've made over the previous year," Lewis said.

"It's a day of prayer and contemplation. You're really ready to start the new year fresh and set whatever goals for yourself you want to set."

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