Around the High Holidays, I often point out to my non-Jewish friends and acquaintances that it is Jewish New Year. Many times the response is to ask whether there will be a big party. Of course, they are thinking that Rosh Hashanah is celebrated like the calendar new year on December 31/January 1. I sense I disappoint them when I say Rosh Hashanah actually is a solemn observance with much time in shul linked to a 10-day reflection period culminating in day of repentance, Yom Kippur.
There are no wild Rosh Hashanah parties. The emphasis is on reflection. But together with that, there is meaningful time spent with fellow congregants at and in between services – and at good meals with family and friends. And this year the IJC held a very good set of High Holiday services, led by our Rabbinical Intern Brian with visiting Cantor Marty Eisenstein on Rosh Hashanah and visiting Cantor Ido Ben-Gal on Yom Kippur. Services were very well attended and culminated in an atmospheric break-the-fast meal.
The High Holidays rituals are carried out in the community, as a balance between the private and the public, the individual and the group. The concept is for each member of the congregation to reflect on what he or she has done the past year, seek to atone for any wrongdoing and consolidate what has been learned for a better new year. This is done for the most part in public, standing with many other congregants in the shul. It is not a time to be alone.
I find this reinforced in the rituals of saying Kaddish for the dead and the Yom Kippur Yizkor (Remembrance) service. The private grief is displayed in public –with the whole community taking the mourner into its bosom. Kaddish is recited by mourners at services for up to a year after the death of a parent or other near relative. In Progressive Jewish practice, the Kaddish is recited not just by the mourners but by the entire congregation – a sign of solidarity. The Yizkor service is an annual public observance of bereavement by the entire congregation. We honor the memory of our departed loved ones and we honor each other by reciting together the prayers and readings of the Yizkor service.
We are approaching November 11th, Armistice Day. This year will mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War (World War I). In its formal secular observance over the decades, it has some hallmarks of Yizkor. Yet its resonance has waned as people come to feel it is just history, almost irrelevant. The 100th anniversary may be different. Some may see it as being more relevant. Some may even wonder, to paraphrase the author William Faulkner, if the past is dead or even past.
These are strange times. Still, I can say that the IJC itself has started the New Year 5779 with enthusiasm and style. I look forward to welcoming you to our services, holiday parties and special events planned for the course of this year. Join our party.
The President of the IJC