Everything You Always Wanted to Know about the Shofar but Were Afraid to Ask

At this time of year you are probably getting used to hearing Happy New Year, Shana tova, and the words Rosh Hashanah bandied about and wondering what is this exactly. Rosh Hashana is a combination of penance and joy. It is hard to explain so I will share a short (2 1/2 min.) video I recently discovered that explains this weird holiday, and also contains the blowing of the shofar – the ram’s horn – which I will talk more about after the video.

Now you are probably wondering what is the meaning of the shofar? The shofar is a ram’s horn which is reminiscent of human vocal expression and is supposed to awaken us to do the work of self-evaluation and introspection regarding the world and our place in it during the month prior to Rosh Hashanah, and also integral to the High Holidays (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur) services. And by the way it’s harder to get a sound out of it than it looks. (Yes I tried and failed). But here are some examples of people who succeeded.

The longest shofar blast.

And a totally new initiative, the shofar flash mob, groups who got together at different places in the world to blow shofar together.

And last but not least, here is an adorable video of my nieces and nephew wishing you all a happy Rosh Hashanah. Shana Tova!

 

 

Thoughts and Reflections on the Eve of Yom Kippur

A few short weeks ago on August 23rd, 2010 I attended and videotaped an amazing conference organized by CIJR (Canadian Institute for Jewish Research) here in Montreal.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Wiesenthal Center gave the lunchtime address. He started by commenting that in the face of intellectual giants who were presenting during the day such as Professor Wistrich of Hebrew University and Professor Small of Yale University, he did not feel compelled to exert himself on the intellectual plane. And so he shared three incidents which resonated powerfully with me, one of which I will share with you today, as it feels particularly apt on the eve of our annual Yom Kippur observation.

Rabbi Cooper shared that he has traveled extensively internationally, meeting with government officials, the Pope, and the public on issues of concern to the Jewish people. For example, he shared that he has traveled to Japan and many other countries to educate about the dissemination of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and to shut down its publication.

After one of these talks to a group of Japanese businessman, the Rabbi respectfully asked, “Are there any questions?” As Japanese audiences are known for their polite reticence, he was very surprised as one CEO stood up and said ‘Yes, Rabbi, I have a question. Rabbi Cooper, we understand now that Jews don’t get together to plot world conspiracies and financial domination in their synagogue, but can you tell us what do Jews do in synagogue? Do Jews pray?” This question stopped him in his tracks, and it stopped me in my tracks as well. I think of it especially now as we Jews begin our twenty-five hour annual stint of fasting and prayer. How do we explain what happened there?

How do you share a five thousand year tradition while standing on one leg?

For now I refer you to the following website of Beliefnet: for a hands-on explanation of the key elements of Yom Kippur as well as a description of the actual service. But on a deeper level, how does one share a five thousand year practice that has evolved with each generation continuing to maintain its loyalty both to the past and the future?

On September 10th, 2009, I participated in a webinar with Rabbi Yitz Greenberg on the prayer service of Yom Kippur. Rabbi Yitz Greenberg and Rabbi Kimmelman share how the ritual of the Yom Kippur prayer service is connected not only to the individual Jew but also to the community and all nations. He shows us how the prayers are carefully crafted to pray for peace not just for the individual but for all nations and all people in the universe, and to be realized under the rule of law, truth, and justice. And these are not mere empty words but also a prescription for achieving it.

The amazing thing about our tradition is that it has been evolving for five thousand years with loyalty to the past, the present, and hopes for the future.

The main refrain on Yom Kippur is “Tshuva, tefillah and tzedaka, maavirin et roah hagzera.” I say this in Hebrew transliteration because each word is multilayered, powerful, and significant and difficult to translate but I will attempt it. Tshuva, (return to our sources) tefillah (prayer) and tzedaka (doing just acts) can have the power to mollify evil outcomes.

To be continued… gmar tov: traditonal greeting at the end of Yom Kippur – May our prayers be fulfilled for good in the next year and within our lifetimes.

May we all pray together this Yom Kippur for the tshuva (improved behaviour) of every Jew, every human being, every government, and all peoples in the Universe. Even a slight improvement in each individual’s awareness and behavior can have a major impact on all of us.

Shana tova oometukah.

Wishing you a good and sweet year during this coming year.

Rosh Hashanah: Angst

Rosh Hashana is the season of Jewish angst. It is the Jewish New Year, a time when Jews are supposed to grapple with their own demons. It is a time for self assessment, for asking forgiveness from those we have harmed and making resolutions for the future. Life however is not entirely in our hands and we reflect also on the fragility of life and ask for a new year of joy, good health and continued life, all the time knowing that none of us has any guarantees in this regard.  Our prayers meditate on the question “Who will be raised up, and who will be brought down? Who will live and who will die in this new year?” And this suspense is the suspense of life itself. And this is the drama of the Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur Holiday cycle to which we have to bring our mind and soul.

A friend sent me the following parody of New Years wishes.

May your hair, your teeth, your face-lift, your abs, and your stocks
not fall .And may your blood pressure, your triglycerides, your cholesterol, your white blood count and your mortgage interest
not rise.
May you get a clean bill of health from your dentist, your cardiologist, your gastroenterologist, your urologist, your proctologist, your podiatrist, your psychiatrist, your plumber, and the Internal Revenue.
May you find a way to travel from anywhere to anywhere during rush hour in less than an hour, and when you get there may you find a parking space.
May this Yom Tov, find you seated around the dinner table, together with your beloved family and cherished friends, ushering in the Jewish New Year ahead.
May what you see in the mirror delight you, and what others see in you delight them.
May the telemarketers wait to make their sales calls until you finish dinner, may your checkbook and your budget balance, and may they include generous amounts for charity.
May you remember to say “I love you” at least once a day to your partner, your child, and your parent(s). You can say it to your secretary, your nurse, your butcher, your photographer, your hairdresser or your gym instructor,
but not with a “twinkle” in your eye.
May we live as intended, in a world at peace with the awareness of the beauty in every sunset, every flower’s unfolding petals, every baby’s smile and every wonderful, astonishing, miraculous part of ourselves.
Bless you with every happiness, great health, peace and much love during the next year and all those that follow.

And here is an Israeli musical video that says it in a different way: Wishing everyone a “Shana Tova Umetooka”: A good and sweet year to everyone.

 

L’shanah Tova to all of us.

 

 

 

Rosh Hashanah : The Birthday of the World : What Does it Mean ?

 

Rosh HashanaOne of the names for the Jewish new Year, is the “birthday of the world”. It is two days that Jews choose to celebrate, every year, by collectively attending synagogue services and having festive meals, starting with apples dipped in honey to symbolize hope for a sweet new year.

As we look around the world, this Rosh Hashana 5773/2012, the Middle East is in turmoil. Riots in Libya, Egypt, Sudan, and the burning of the American flag have replaced the deadly assaults in Syria on the front pages of our newspapers. Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon program and continuing its genocidal threats against Israel, although its real target is the World, and the end goal is Arab/Muslim Hegemony.

Africa is in turmoil. Asia has its share of dictatorships and oppressed peoples. The United States is poised for an election in the midst of an economic crisis that affects all of us.

And yet Jews all over the world are getting ready to celebrate the Jewish New Year, the Holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the 5773th year in the Jewish calender.

A birthday is the birthing anew of our world. Everything seems possible at the beginning of the year. The Torah portions that we read highlight these ideas.

On the first day of Rosh Hashana, we read about Sarah, the wife of Abraham being told she will have a child at the age of 100. Genesis 21:1–34; And the next day we read about G-d asking Abraham to sacrifice his only son. Genesis 22:1–24

In the additional readings, (the Haftorot) for the two days, we learn on the first day (Samuel 1:1-2:10) about Hanna, who was barren, praying so hard for a son that the priest, Eli thinks she is drunk, and the birth of Samuel. (Reminding us of the long and event filled life of the Prophet Samuel, recounted in the two prophetic books, Samuel I, and Samuel II.) On the second day we read the words of  (Jeremiah, 31:1) prophesying about G-d’s eternal love for His people and His promised ingathering of the exiles, bringing all Jews back to Israel – the promised land.

Life is fragile and, as adults, we all know that we are never completely in charge of our fates. On Rosh Hashanah, during synagogue services, Jews meditate on this fact, by sharing the liturgy of this day, some in grand operatic style, and some with muted prayer. We all pray, that G-d in partnership with man, will bring us safely to the best options through the coming year. We pray to be blessed with life, health, abundance and happiness, all the while recognizing the fragility of life, and the joy of having one more day to fulfill our hopes and dreams.

This is aptly recognized by Rabbi Steinmetz in his brief Rosh Hashanah talk: Life has no “Easy Button.”

Shana Tova. Here is praying for a fruitful year of wisdom, good health, and abundance for all of us.

Abigail Hirsch