Monday, September 21, 2009

One of the great things about being a Celebrant is the heightened awareness that I have to holidays and celebrations that are “not my own.” On Friday evening, my Jewish friends celebrated Rosh Hashanah—the New Year, 5770. Rosh Hashanah rings in the “Days of Awe,” the 10 day period between the New Year and Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement.” At the risks of showing my ignorance and utter simplification on this topic, I must confess that I am captivated by the symbolism and meaning of this period. The New Year arrives to the blast of the shofar the ram’s horn that serves as a trumpet, marking the birthday of God’s creation of Adam and Eve. This is a happy, sweet time, but also one of reflection and introspection, recognizing God’s judgment over our lives and the world. On the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah, many will go to a flowing body or water and throw bread into the water, symbolizing casting away of one’s sins. The coming period offers a time of reflecting, amending, and repenting for one’s sinful deeds. The Days of Awe culminate with Yom Kippur, the most sacred day of the year, which includes fasting, meditation, and prayer. May we all be scribed in God’s Book of Life for the year!

As life would have it, I was in the Newport Rhode Island area on Saturday to celebrate a beach wedding on a truly stunning September day. In seeing the sites in Newport, I was reminded that this luxurious resort community is the home of the oldest standing Synagogue in America, the Touro Synagogue. The Synagogue building was completed in 1763 for the Jeshuat Israel congregation, which itself dates back to 1658 when Spanish and Portuguese Jewish families, most probably from the West Indies, arrived in Rhode Island. I was first introduced to this institution by the excellent PBS documentary on The Jewish Americans. Although Rhode Island was a haven for religious freedom, the Jews remained persecuted and fearful, constructing a most discrete building as shown in the picture. In one of my favorite points about its history, I learned that in 1790, the Synagogue’s warden Moses Seixas wrote to President George Washington, with good wishes and support for the Presidential administration. Washington’s response was quite remarkable for that day and read in part:

...the Government of the United States…gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance...May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy…

What a wonderful gift for me to mark the New Year in this historical place!

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