Jewish community takes time to reflect

Rosh Hashanah provides opportunity to be inspired

Michael Holzer, a member of Temple Beth Israel, blows the shofar. It is blown on Rosh Hashanah and its call is a reminder to look inward and repent for sins of the past year. It is also blown on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, to signify the end of the High Holy Days.

In the Jewish community, a 10-day period of reflection, repentance and re-evaluation will begin at sundown Sunday.

It is Rosh Hashanah, or the beginning of the Days of Awe, which end with Yom Kippur on Sept. 19.

Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of the world and is a time to look at its awesomeness, said Rabbi Audrey Korotkin, spiritual leader of Temple Beth Israel.

“We take time to consider the richness and diversity of the world God has given us,” she said. “It’s about being in awe and overwhelmed and then inspired.”

She said being overwhelmed is not like the feeling people have when they feel inundated by their circumstances.

“We are overwhelmed by how God has blessed us and are inspired by God to be a blessing to other people,” she said.

The theme at Temple Beth Israel for the observance is the Hebrew word, “chesed,’ which means love or kindness and is based on Psalm 89:3.

She said the Scriptures read on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur focus on the blessings of God and being a blessing to others.

Her messages also will reflect the words of a man who is known for promoting respect and positive relationships — Fred Rogers.

She said Rogers, who was an ordained Presbyterian minister, spoke to children through his television program, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” about being kind, a message found in Judeo-Christian Scriptures.

Korotkin said children were attentive to Rogers’ words.

“Their ideas about the world, the neighborhood were not formed yet,” she said. “Children are open to a lot of messages, and they slow down to process things. We as adults don’t seem to do that.”

She said the days of reflection allow adults to take a step back, to slow down and take a breath.

“It makes us think about our place in the world. It gives us a chance to reflect on our amazing, diverse world and ask, ‘How do I fit in?'”

“We need to open our hearts and minds to people who are different from us,” Korotkin said. “All are part of God’s world.”

It is a world that Jews are called to repair, a concept known as Tikkun Olam in Hebrew. It is defined as any activity that brings the world closer to the harmonious state for which it was created, according to Chabad.org. Korotkin said Rogers used the phrase in a public service announcement after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It was a time of fear and anti-immigrant thinking, she said.

Locally, Temple Beth Israel blesses the community by responding to a need as a way “to repair the world” and bless others as part of the High Holy Days observance. Last year, the congregation collected food items for a month for the Mountain Lion BackPack program, which provides weekend meals to students in the Altoona Area School District when other resources may not be available to them.

The congregation will collect food again this year. It also will join the Jewish Sunday School, which encompasses students from Agudath Achim Congregation as well, to pack backpacks throughout the school year.

Cantor Benjamin Matis, the new spiritual leader at Agudath Achim Congregation, spoke about taking a personal accounting during the High Holy Days.

He said it is a time to reflect on “what kind of human being do you want to be?”

Matis said it is a time to reflect on the past year and to think about offenses not only against God but others, too.

Even though Jews can pray anytime and anywhere for forgiveness, Matis said the High Holy Days are like a clearing house. He said in a business, matters are taken care of day to day, but an accounting is taken at the end of the year.

“It offers a greater look at the whole picture,” he said.

In the same way, the 10-day period provides a way to look at what kind of human being you were during the past year.

“You have to be honest with yourself,” he said. “Do you try to justify wrongs? You have to think about it from the heart. Was that really the right thing to do?”

He gave the example of speeding on the highway or sliding through a stop sign, actions that are illegal regardless if one gets caught or not.

Matis said it is a time to really look at one’s life and determine how to make changes.

Traditionally, Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, is the final day to seek forgiveness before God seals the Books of Life and Death for the coming year. On that day, Jews fast and attend services. It is a day devoted to communal repentance and prayer.

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