It’s the high season of holidays for Jewish people, according to Rabbi Graubart of La Jolla’s Congregation Beth El. At his synagogue, festivities for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, were kicked off on Saturday, Sept. 8 with a concert, followed by a dessert reception and a study session that lasted until midnight. They also held Rosh Hashanah services on Wednesday, Sept. 12, and more services continue Thursday, Sept. 13 from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and Friday, Sept. 14 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
“The Jewish New Year has two purposes,” Rabbi Graubart said. “One is to celebrate the new year, the time that has passed. It is also a time of repentance, contrition and commitment to repairing relationships.” These relationships could be between God and mankind, Jewish people and Israel, or between human beings.
This year, Beth El celebrates its 50th anniversary, 30 of which have been at its current location in La Jolla. It welcomes the new year and the anniversary at a time of growth, with more than 500 families in its congregation. The congregation is in the midst of a long-range plan to aid that growth, which includes building a new sanctuary.
Beth El synagogue is open to people of all backgrounds and allows women to participate equally in its services. Offering a variety of ways to get in touch with a Jewish community, the synagogue hosts women’s and men’s groups, as well as groups for community service, writing, bereavement, and outdoor experiences. Rabbi Graubart stressed the fact that all events and services are open to the public.
Beth El is a conservative synagogue, meaning that it maintains a lot of the Jewish traditions, but allows for some change over time.
The three sects of Judaism are differentiated based on how strictly they follow the laws in the Torah. Rabbi Leider of Chabad Center of University Center said, “Judaism is based on the fact that God gave Torah to Jewish people on Mt. Sinai. It held laws in it to be observed, kosher diet laws, laws about holidays, family laws.” Leider continued, “Orthodox is the most traditional.
Reform is the most liberal. Conservative is in-between.” For example, while Orthodox and Conservative Jews believe you must either have a Jewish mother or be converted to Judaism to be Jewish, Reform Jews will accept those who have a Jewish father as Jews as well, according to Rabbi Leider.
Leider is also enjoying a growing congregation at his Orthodox synagogue, with more than 200 families. Although they started in La Jolla in 1977, they moved to University City in 1986.
At Chabad, the Rosh Hashanah celebration began on Wednesday, Sept. 12 with a candle lighting ceremony followed by a Rosh Hashanah dinner. Services continue Thursday, Sept. 12 and Friday, Sept.13 from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
There are 10 days between the first day of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which begins Friday Sept. 21 at sundown.
“There are 10 days of repentance, where we evaluate our lives, look at our lives, repent for the sins we have done, and then it’s Yom Kippur,” Rabbi Leider said. “Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year for Jewish people.”
In all synagogues, the Rosh Hashanah celebration is alive with tradition. Feasting and meals are an important part of the celebration. Typical foods eaten include apples and bread dipped in honey. Rabbi Leider said, “Many people walk to a body of water to throw out their sins on any of the days up until Yom Kippur.” Also, a ram’s horn is blown during the Rosh Hashanah services to symbolize the account in the Torah of when an Angel sent Abraham a ram to distract him from sacrificing his son Isaac. It serves as a reminder of what Abraham was willing to sacrifice for God and helps Jewish people to ask God for forgiveness, according to Rabbi Leider.
Finally, Saturday, Sept. 22, Jewish people will break the fast that began at sundown Friday and the celebration begins. It continues on Sept. 27 and 28 for Sukkot, the Jewish harvest celebration.
Congregation Beth El is located at 8660 Gilman Drive. For more information on Rosh Hashanah services or the synagogue call (858) 452-1734 or visit the Web site at www.congregationbethel.com. Chabad Center of University City is located at 3813 Governor Drive. The phone number is (858) 455-1670 and the Web site is www.chabaduc.org.