Oakland’s Jewish community welcomes the new year during Rosh Hashanah
on September 10, 2010
Along a thin creek in Oakland’s Dimond Park, a group of people gathered on Thursday evening to toss bits of bagel, Wonder Bread and cinnamon raisin toast into the water—yet there were no ducks in sight. The crowd, comprised of over 200 members of Oakland’s four largest synagogues, came to the creek to participate in the annual Rosh Hashanah ritual, Tashlich, during which Jews throw bread into running water to symbolize purging themselves of their sins.
Murmurs of the accompanying prayer from Micah 7:13—“And you will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea”—were audible as people spent the hours before sunset symbolically casting misdeeds into the shallow water, ranging from 17-year-old Ariele Scharff’s desire to “get rid of being judgmental,” to Temple Beth Abraham cantor Richard Kaplan’s wish to “throw away the forgetfulness that the divine one is at the center of everything.”
“Look around,” said Beth Abraham Rabbi Mark Bloom, gesturing at the gathering made up of people of all ages and denominations. “This is my favorite part, seeing the joy these people get just from being around each other. What could be better?”
An estimated 10,000 Jewish households in Oakland have spent the past two days observing Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year which this year marks the 5,771st year on the Jewish lunar calendar. Unlike its secular counterpart, the Jewish new year isn’t defined by champagne and midnight madness. “It’s a time to be both celebratory and thoughtful,” said Rabbi Judah Dardik from the Beth Jacob Congregation in Glenview, who attended the ceremony.
Along with marking a new year, Rosh Hashanah is the starting point of what is known as the Ten Days of Awe or Repentance, Judaism’s most sacred period which began on September 8 this year and will end with Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement on September 18. According to the Jewish faith, it is during this time that God is thought to judge individuals for their actions of the past year.
“Think of it this way,” said Paul Geduldig, executive director of Oakland’s largest synagogue, Temple Sinai in downtown Oakland. “The idea is that your fate for the coming year is written on Rosh Hashanah, but you have ten days until this fate is sealed.” Jews are directed to spend the ten-day period reflecting on their behavior, repenting for any misdeeds and praying for forgiveness.
“Trust me, it’s not as ‘doom and gloom’ as it sounds,” said Rockridge resident Ellie Moore. “Yes, it’s a lot of time to spend focusing on everything you’ve done wrong but it’s the perfect opportunity to give yourself a clean slate and set things right again.”
“For Reform Jews like me who usually only attend services on the High Holidays like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it’s one of the only times we can all be together in one place” she continued. “There is something really comforting about that.”
Though it is a time for solemn introspection, Rosh Hashanah also emphasizes togetherness. On Thursday morning, the Paramount Theater in downtown Oakland was packed with over 1,000 Temple Sinai members attending a morning service, many of whom stayed well beyond the end of the ceremony. The sidewalk outside the theater was jammed with congregants mingling and catching up with each other.
“For me, its about my family,” said Elana Sasson, a 14- year-old member of Temple Beth Abraham in Adams Point. “Everyone drives in from all over, just to be with each other.”
Though large, loud family gatherings are typical of most Jewish holidays, food is also of particular importance during Rosh Hashanah. Unlike, Yom Kippur, during which Jews are required to fast, large meals and sweet foods such as apples dipped in honey are eaten to signify the desire for a sweet upcoming year. “Basically every Jewish holiday is spend either eating or not eating,” said Piedmont resident and Temple Sinai member Moses Libitzky after Thursday’s morning services.
With Rosh Hashanah festivities ending at sundown on September 10, Oakland Jews have already begun preparing for the week of reflection and self-examination before Yom Kippur. “It’s a time when you think past your everyday life and jobs and school,” said 14-year-old Maya Shorne who is a member of Congregation B’nai Shalom in Walnut Creek. “You’re just in the zone, ready to pray and start the new year with a bang.”
All Oakland synagogues will be holding Yom Kippur services beginning at sundown on September 17. For more information, contact the Chabad of Oakland at JewishOakland.org.
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