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Preparing for ‘days of awe’

Observance: Prayer and reflection necessary to ready for spiritual, life changes during Jewish High

Posted: September 3, 2010 2:56 p.m.
Updated: September 4, 2010 4:55 a.m.

David Robotnic, left, is greeted by Choni Marozov, his son Leibi, 9, and his father, Rabbi Zalmen Marozov, last year. Rosh Hashana begins this year at sundown on Wednesday.

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Jay Hodes and wife, Esther, spent the past week writing checks to charities, studying Jewish texts and making amends with certain friends or relatives.

The Valencia couple is in preparation mode for the upcoming High Holidays, otherwise known as High Holy Days.

“(It’s) a time when you take stock of your life and yourself,” Jay Hodes, a member of Congregation Beth Shalom, said. “It’s a calling to do better for people and family. And it’s a time to appreciate blessings.”

Rosh Hashana begins Wednesday at sundown, marking Jewish Year 5771 and kicking off a 10-day period of reflection. But the month of spiritual and emotional preparation leading up to the High Holidays, also known as the “days of awe,” are vital for rabbis and congregation members.

“We don’t just dive into (High Holidays),” said Rabbi Choni Marozov of Chabad of SCV.

For example, Marozov said, “every morning during the month of Elul, we blow the shofar (a ram’s horn) to remind us that the High Holidays are coming up.”

The introspective time of repentance and forgiveness leads up to and continues through the Jewish new year and until Yom Kippur, the “day of atonement.” Yom Kippur ends Sept. 18 at sundown.

The month of Elul, which ends with Yom Kippur, is the time that Moses spent on Mount Sinai preparing the second set of tablets, Morozov said. Yom Kippur is traditionally viewed as the day Moses descended Mount Sinai with the second set of tablets, a symbol of the renewed covenant between God and the Jewish people.

Local synagogue leaders said they see a spike in the number of Jewish community members attending services during the High Holidays.

Synagogue preparations begin months ahead of time, said Rabbi Howard Siegel of Congregation Beth Shalom.

“This is the one time a year when we see more congregants who come together than any other point during the year,” he said. “So there’s an expectation that the congregants have for a sense of spiritual fulfillment.”

Rabbis spend a great deal of time molding their messages. The pressure is heightened for them to deliver impactful sermons.

“I have to spend an enormous amount of time preparing what I’m going to say,” Siegel said. “How can I make a difference with my words to make (people) consider a change in the way they employ their time.”

Rosh Hashana means “head of the year,” Marozov  said.

Just as the head sends signals to the rest of the body, Rosh Hashana sends blessings for the entire year, he said. It’s also an opportunity for rabbis to encourage Jewish community members to pursue their faith.

“It’s important for a rabbi to try to inspire the people to bring more Judaism to their life and to encourage them to be more active and participate in Jewish life and synagogue life throughout the year,” he said.

Siegel said this year brings demand for rabbis to deliver moving messages with relevant substance as congregants deal with trying times. For example, he has noticed the impact the troubled economy has taken on the nation, including congregants of Congregation Beth Shalom.

“There are such overwhelming issues of concern that affect everyday life, the happiness of families,” he said. “People are coming to the synagogue, if not looking for answers, (then) looking for guidance.”

Members or visitors to Congregation Beth Shalom will come together for prayer and reflection on the Saturday before Rosh Hashana to observe Selichot, or penetential prayers and songs, during which the central theme will be forgiving and moving on.

“For change to take place,” Siegel said, “it’s something we have to prepare for – think about and pray for.”

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