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L’shanah Tovah - Odessa American: Religion

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L’shanah Tovah

Temple Beth El rings in a new year

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Posted: Saturday, September 7, 2013 8:00 am

Wish someone a “Happy New Year” in September and they’ll probably think you’re confused.

Unless they are members of Temple Beth El, 1501 N. Grandview Ave., celebrating the Jewish high holidays this month, including the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah.

Rosh Hashanah, which was Sept. 4, kicked off a series of Jewish holidays taking place in the next few weeks, including Yom Kippur, Sept. 13, Sukkot, Sept. 18, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, Sept. 25-27.

“The high holiday season (Including Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) is the most important time of year besides Shabbat (the weekly Sabbath),” Temple Beth El Rabbi Holly Levin Cohn said. “If people don’t attend the rest of the year they most typically will attend services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.”

About 50 people met Thursday night and Friday morning at the temple to ring in a new year wishing each other “shanah tovah,” or a “good year” and listening to the shofar, an instrument made from the horn of a ram.

Congregants will meet again on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, a more solemn holiday than Rosh Hashanah, Cohn said.

“We come together for prayer and we fast for one day,” Cohn said. “We’re not supposed to be focused on physical needs or do anything that would be considered a human luxury or indulgence because we are asking forgiveness from God. Hopefully we’ve already asked forgiveness from other people. The real focus is on internal soul seeking and forgiveness, even forgiving ourselves.”

Children and those who are not able to fast are excused from fasting, Cohn noted.

Odessan Lanie Hill has been attending Temple Beth El for more than 60 years with her mother, Helen Tobin.

“(The high holidays are) Very important,” Hill, 67, said. “This is when you reassess your life and try to repent. You try always, not just this time of year, but especially now you focus more on it. It’s about starting over with a clean slate and trying to ask forgiveness of those who you feel you’ve done wrong.”

Tobin, 94, said Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are without a doubt two of her favorite Jewish holidays.

“My favorite holiday is really between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur because they are the most important,” Tobin, who used to teach Sunday school at the temple in the 1960s, said.

For the days following Yom Kippur, Cohn will be busy building a sukkah, a temporary outdoor structure with a roof and three walls, in time to celebrate Sukkot, Sept. 18, one of the three harvest festivals.

“It’s a really fun holiday for families,” Cohn said. “You build this temporary structure families can build and decorate, where you can see the stars (through the roof). It symbolizes how when we were wandering in the desert we had portable dwelling places. It’s to remember that and it’s also a holiday of welcoming guests into your home or sukkah.”

Shemini Atzeret, the “Eighth Day of Assembly” of the festival of Sukkot will immediately follow Sukkot and precede Simchat Torah, Sept. 26.

“Simchat Torah is when we celebrate the Torah,” Cohn said. “We celebrate how we read the last book of the Torah and we immediately start from the beginning once again because the torah is something we read every year and always learn something new from. On Simchat Torah we dance with the torah, the little ones get a little torah and it’s the beginning of their Jewish study so it’s also a really fun holiday.”

And Hill and her mother will make sure they’re in on the fun every step of the way.

“We have a lot of fun, good memories and have made many friends at the temple over the years,” Hill said. “We’re so glad there’s a synagogue out here.”

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