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Friday, September 29, 2000
Houston, Texas
Volume 66, Issue 29

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Holiday provides a time of reflection

Today at sundown, the Jewish community begins celebrating the new year known as Rosh Hashana

By Juliana Coutinho
Daily Cougar Staff

The Jewish community begins its celebration of Rosh Hashana today -- the beginning of the Jewish calendar year 5761.

"Festivities usually go from sundown Friday night to sundown the next day," said Rabbi Jimmy Kessler of Temple BiNai Israel in Galveston.

Rosh Hashana lasts one day for some people and two days for others, Kessler said. He said the holiday is festive, but is also a chance for reflection on the past year and making plans for the coming one.

"Itis a time for Jews to take a moral inventory from the past year, to ask for forgiveness for misdeeds committed against God or other individuals, and to repent for those deeds," said Rabbi Mathew Michaels, executive director of the Hillel Foundation of Greater Houston.

Rosh Hashana is a celebration of religion, family and life, said Julie Gutman, a program associate for Hillel, which has an office at UH.

"We want to make a fresh start for the new year, and we pray for a better year," she said.

Kessler said synagogues hold prayers and offer meals to their members during services celebrating Rosh Hashana. Jews traditionally dip apples in honey as a symbol of wishing a sweet new year to each other, Michaels said.

Another tradition has its roots at the beginning of the Bible: "We sound the ramis horn 100 times to mark the beginning of the year," Kessler said.

The tradition is based on the story from the book of Genesis in which God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.

According to the story, Abraham was willing to fulfill Godis command and sacrifice Isaac, but an angel of God stayed Abrahamis hand and a ram, caught in the thickets by its horns, was sacrificed instead of Isaac.

The shofar -- the ramis horn -- is blown during Rosh Hashana to illustrate Abrahamis story.

"Weire called to focus on our faith to God," Kessler said.

Michaels said the shofar was used as a warning system in Jewish communities when they were under attack. It was also used to announce the new moon.

"Now sounding the shofar works as a moral warning," he said. "We sound the shofar to awaken from our spiritual apathy."

Ten days after Rosh Hashana, the Jewish community celebrates Yom Kippur, which is the Jewish Day of Atonement. During Yom Kippur, Jews fast for 24 hours.

"We want all of our power and concentration to be on prayer and repentance, and not on physical need," Michaels said.

There are four branches of Judaism: Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Reform, with the differences being in the way followers practice customs.

Orthodox Judaism is considered the most traditional. In this branch, ritual behavior is governed by the Jewish law, or halacha.

Reform Judaism is considered the most liberal and looks at the halacha as a guide, not as a way of mandating practice.

Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services for students and faculty in the Houston area will be offered at no cost at the Hillel Foundation of Greater Houston, 1700 Bissonnet.

Rosh Hashana services will be held at 6:45 p.m. today and 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Yom Kippur services will be 7 p.m. Oct. 8 and 10 a.m. and 5:45 p.m. Oct. 9.

Although students and faculty may attend for free, members of the community must pay $125 for the six services.

Dinner after the Rosh Hashana services is optional. The cost for students is $5; for faculty, $10; and for others, $12.

The Foundation requests that all people interested in participating R.S.V.P. by calling (713) 526-4918 or e-mailing sandyf@houstonhillel.org.
 

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