At Rosh Hashanah, thoughts turn to Sept. 11
Jews from around the Valley say the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will weigh on their thoughts during the observance of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which starts tonight at sundown and continues through Sunday.
“It’s still very much on people’s minds,” said Rabbi David Greenspoon of Congregation Adat Shalom B’nai Israel Beth Jacob in Indiana Township.
“Assumptions that defined what it meant to be Jewish and American have been challenged in the last year, and people are still in the process of sorting out their thoughts,” Greenspoon said.
Last year, the Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur came just days after the devastating attacks. Many rabbis ripped up planned sermons and struggled to find words to comfort their congregants.
Greenspoon intends to use his High Holiday sermons this year to help Adat Shalom members grapple with what many believe has been one of the most traumatic years in recent history.
Heightened violence in Israel and a worldwide resurgence in anti-Semitism have made the year especially disquieting for the Jewish community.
“I think as American Jews we became complacent because we thought this country was a safe haven,” said Robyn Zlotnik, president of the Adat Shalom sisterhood. “But 9-11 shattered that sense of security.”
Zlotnik, 33, of Fox Chapel said she will be thinking about Sept. 11 during Rosh Hashanah, but doesn’t plan to act differently for two reasons – one a matter of practicality and the other a matter of religious faith.
Synagogues on high alert
“Our synagogue has taken security precautions,” Zlotnik said. “More than that, though, it almost goes back the Holocaust, where you don’t want to deny that you’re Jewish or go into hiding just to save your life.”
Taking the advice of national Jewish agencies and the federal government, Adat Shalom will be on high alert during the High Holidays, the time of year when synagogues are fullest.
Service attendees will be required | to present a ticket and photo identification. A larger security force, including undercover officers, will police the area inside and around Adat Shalom, Zlotnik said.
“It will be somber,” said Adat Shalom member Alison Newman of Fox Chapel. “But we will be grateful nothing else major has happened and have a greater appreciation for how short life can be.”
Translated from Hebrew, Rosh Hashanah means “head of the year.” Little similarity exists, however, between secular New Year celebrations and Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days on the Jewish calendar.
No work is permitted on Rosh Hashanah. Jews spend most of the day in synagogue where religious services focus on God’s sovereignty.
The Old Testament refers to the holiday as Yom Ha-Zikkaron, or the Day of Remembrance. It’s a time of prayer and introspection that starts with Rosh Hashanah and ends with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which begins on Sunday, Sept. 15, this year.
Albert Eger, 84, of New Ken-sington said the events of Sept. 11 will be on his mind during this holy 10-day period when many Jews believe that God decides who will live and who will die in the upcoming year.
“I guess every day is different now than it was a year ago,” Eger said. “So we just have to stick together, not only as we Jews who are celebrating our new year, but everybody, and pray to the dear Lord we never see another day like that again.”
One of the most important observances of Rosh Hashanah is hearing the sounding of the shofar, or ram’s horn. The shofar is blown somewhat like a trumpet, and some Jewish scholars suggest it’s a call to repentance.
This year, in addition to the 100 notes sounded on Rosh Hashanah, Greenspoon will sound the shofar at an interfaith memorial service on Wednesday sponsored by the Fox Chapel Ministerium.
He said it’s an appropriate time to sound the ram’s horn, which the Bible instructs can be used as part of a temple service, during time of national emergency or as a call to bring many people together.
“We’re calling it a service of remembrance and hope. That’s how we hope the service will move – from remembering the events of Sept. 11, 2001, to leaving people with a sense of hope on Sept. 11, 2002,” said the Rev. Carl Richter of Trinity United Christian Church in Fox Chapel.
The evening will feature a candle-lighting ceremony, as well as liturgy and music written in response to the Sept. 11 attacks.
“There’s still a lot of fear in people’s hearts,” Richter said. “Hopefully by voicing those fears, we can help put them to rest.”