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Jewish Congregation of Marco Island celebrates Rosh Hashanah

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Happy New Year! – and welcome, as we ring in 5779. Or perhaps, we blow in the New Year. Blasts on the shofar, the ram’s horn used in Jewish ceremonies, are a central feature of Rosh Hashanah services. The Jewish Congregation of Marco Island held their Rosh Hashanah celebrations Sunday evening and Monday morning, to celebrate the advent of the new year.

Rabbi Mark Gross conducted the services, with the assistance of cantorial soloist Hari Jacobsen, and congregation member Max Stein blowing the shofar at three points during Monday’s service. Rosh Hashanah services invite the faithful to examine themselves, strive to do better in the coming year, and “rebuild an injured spirit.”

During a service that went over two hours on Monday, Gross offered repeated pleas for healing, compassion, generosity and justice, in English and Hebrew, in spoken words and song. He spoke of the legendary stubbornness of the Jews and urged them to submit to the will of God.

“We are stiff-necked and stubborn. Convince us to bend our necks before you. We would not bow to Pharaoh. Teach us to bow our heads and bend our knees before the majesty” of Adonai, the lord, he implored.

With many asides, and a charming interruption when his young redheaded granddaughter ran onstage, Gross led the congregation through the service, and invited various members up to assist in bringing the Torah scroll – one of three JCMI possesses – out. He carried the bulky scroll around the sanctuary, inviting members to touch or kiss it as it passed.

In one remark, Gross pointed out that for modern readers, easily taking in the words handwritten on the long parchment scroll is not easy.

“There are no page numbers in the Torah, no vowels, no punctuation – it’s basically just one big, long run-on sentence,” he said. Speaking of the ancient practice of the patriarchs taking multiple wives, Gross offered, “in an era of 55 percent divorce, we understand one on one is a sufficiently challenging ratio.”

Though Rosh Hashanah in Hebrew literally means "head of the year," the holiday actually takes place on the first two days of the Jewish month of Tishrei, which is the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar. In the Jewish oral tradition, Rosh Hashanah marks the completion of the creation of the world, now 5779 years ago.

Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days, and is followed 10 days later by Yom Kippur, the "day of atonement." The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are viewed as an opportunity for Jews to repent (teshuvah, in Hebrew) and ensure a good fate.

In Jewish tradition, the day begins at sunset, so Rosh Hashanah commenced this year at sundown on Thursday, Sept. 9. Yom Kippur will be celebrated Tuesday, Sept. 18, with observant Jews fasting from sunset to sunset, when a “break the fast” feast will be held at JCMI on Wednesday. For that one, reservations are required.

Celebrants will break their fast on traditional foods including poached salmon, smoked whitefish, deviled eggs, bagels, lox and cream cheese, blintz casserole, four different kugels, and two dessert tables, said Bert Thompson. One of the JCMI chefs who create the temple’s “Deli Fest,” he was also one of the elders called on to give a reading from the Torah on Monday.

Rosh Hashanah marks “a period of hope and new beginnings, when you can make resolutions to make the next year better,” said congregation president Sue Baum.

Like all congregations, attendance at JCMI is down during the summer months, but approximately 100 came Monday morning to hear the call for rededicating themselves to a better new year. The High Holy Days bring a series of services for Jews, but as Baum pointed out, with the approach of winter, one well-known JCMI tradition that is an event for the entire Marco Island community will return.

“On October 1, bingo is back at JCMI,” she said.

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