Return to repentance: Jewish new year begins with services

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 18, 2012

BEN HILLYER/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Jay Lehmann blows the shofar during the Monday morning Rosh Hashanah service at Temple B’Nai Israel in Natchez. The ram’s horn is blown on the day that marks the Jewish New Year and the beginning of the High Holy Days.

New year just sounds a little different in Judaism. Instead of fireworks, it’s punctuated by the blast of the shofar, and instead of drinking, it’s met with a confrontation of one’s own flaws.

Sunday evening and Monday morning — the Jewish day starts at sundown — the congregants of Temple B’nai Israel and a handful of spiritually curious onlookers greeted the new year 5773 with the celebration of Rosh Hashanah.

Kathleen Mackey King sings from the balcony to the small crowd gathered for the Rosh Hashanah service at Temple B’Nai Israel Monday morning. In recent years the Jewish congregation in Natchez has slowly dwindled to a handful.

Though it marks the beginning of the new year on the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah also marks when God called the world into being, said Temple B’nai Israel member Beau Baumgardner.

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“These are the times that are more spiritual, more related to the renewal of the spirit,” he said.

That’s in part because worshippers are not only remembering creation, but repenting the sins they have committed in the past year. The process of repentance begun with Rosh Hashanah will culminate next Tuesday with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

“We start here with a clean slate,” Baumgardner said.

Where Judaism may differ from other religions in this regard is that one is not necessarily seeking forgiveness from God.

“We ask forgiveness from the people we have wronged,” Baumgardner said. “You ask God to give you a good heart and the ability to get right with the people you have wronged.

“This is the beginning of getting yourself in the spirit of renewal.”

Rabbi Judith Bluestein of Cincinnati, who led the services Monday, said the new year is the time for people to acknowledge their faults, own them and vow to do better, and an essential part of the holiday’s services are the several confessions of one’s shortfalling.

“Tradition says — and this should be understood metaphorically — that God judges people for the year to come (on this day), who will live, who will die,” Bluestein said.

Rabbi Judith Bluestein reads from the Torah Monday morning.

“Tradition also tells us that God has three books, one that lists those who are totally righteous, those who are totally evil and those who are in-between. The idea is that by prayer and charity we can temper that to some degree.”

Like many religious houses, Temple B’nai Israel’s congregation has shrunk during recent years — Monday’s service contained 14 attendees — but Baumgardner said the current membership still retains representatives from its original founding families.

Every Jewish prayer service has a portion to remember those who have gone on before, and Baumgardner said it is important to remember what the Natchez Jewish forbearers did.

“We have to recognize their contribution, because otherwise there would be no us,” he said.

The temple will observe Yom Kippur next Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. and next Wednesday at 10 a.m.

Baumgardner said all are welcome regardless of religious affiliation.