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High Holy Days: Jewish tradition remembers past, offers forgiveness

Rabbi Jonathan Brown holds a Shofar
Rabbi Jonathan Brown of Beth El Congregation in Winchester holds a Shofar, the horn of a ram, used in Jewish services during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The 10 days from the Jewish new year, Sept. 18, to the Day of Atonement, Monday, encompass the most important days of the Jewish calendar. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

Brown holds a Torah
Brown holds a Torah, which he uses during High Holy Days. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

The most important 10 days in the Jewish year are coming to a close, but the message they convey to the faithful is just taking effect, according to a local rabbi.

The High Holy Days, which began this year on Sept. 18 with the Jewish new year Rosh Hashanah and will end Monday with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, have provided a deep meaningful journey for all who participate, reminding them not only of their mortality on Earth but also of the great gift of forgiveness.

To forgive and to ask to be forgiven are two of the most important lessons one can take from the first 10 days of the Jewish month of Tishrei, says Rabbi Jonathan Brown of Beth El Congregation in Winchester.

The goal each worshiper has in participating is to ensure their names are inscribed for life in the Book of Life, says Brown.

"[It] means your moral situation is good, your spiritual situation is good," he says. Those emerging on the other side of Yom Kippur should feel spiritually "whole," he says.

"You get a very powerful sense of your mortality."

The theme of High Holy Days is white, he says, as well as the colors of fall flowers. The turning of the leaves is comparative of the turning from sin to purity, felt symbolically in the white robes congregants wear on this solemn occasion. The white robes they wear are important to their entire journey on Earth, Brown says. They wear white also at their weddings and at their funerals.

The solemnity of Yom Kippur serves also to remember the day on which Moses returned from the mountain with the Ten Commandments the second time, on Yom Kippur.

The day is considered to be the Sabbath of Sabbaths, he says. It is spent in fasting and prayer, beginning at sundown on Sunday night with a first service. At 8 p.m., people will gather at Beth El for the Kol Nidre, a declaration in which they ask that any personal vows they make under duress between now and next year's Yom Kippur be null and void in the eyes of God should they be unable to keep their vows even after an honest effort to keep them.

Brown encourages worshipers to arrive early for the service so they might approach God and ask for an intervention on their behalf.

"It's a sense of making a promise, a commitment," Brown says. The purpose is that they let go of their transgressions and start anew.

Four more services follow over the next 25 hours at 10 a.m., 4 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 6:15 p.m., the synagogue aglow with light for the duration, Brown says. Those who come to worship pray for those named on the Yahrzeit Memorial Board, though they are invited to submit the names of others they wish to remember as well.

Yom Kippur ends with a shared visual image of gates closing on the past.

"High Holy Days are an effort at serious spiritual renewal," says Brown. Reviewing what has been said and done, resolving to do better, and ensuring the quality of all life will be improved is the goal.

As a way of improving the lives of those around them, congregants at Beth El have been invited to bring food to the synagogue for Lord Fairfax Area Food Bank.

"It's even more necessary this year, but we've always had it," Brown says.

Feeding the poor helps reiterate the message of fasting for penance and spiritual growth.

They fast "to remind us of how many people will fast without choosing to fast," he says.

The experiences shared during High Holy Days "teach us to number our days that we may obtain a heart of wisdom," Brown says.


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