Jewish high holy days begin Sept. 24

BRATTLEBORO — At sundown on Wednesday, Sept. 24, Jewish people all over the world will welcome Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year 5775.

Rosh Hashanah (translation: head of the year) begins a sacred period known as the Days of Awe, that culminates 10 days later on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, observed this year on October 4.

The Days of Awe are marked by contemplation, introspection, confession, and prayer. Reflecting upon the past year, Jews around the world ask forgiveness from family and friends they may have hurt. Tradition teaches that once this is accomplished forgiveness from God will follow. The Days of Awe are regarded as a time of judgment, when people seek atonement and pray to be inscribed in the Book of Life for another year.

Congregation Shir Heharim's high holiday services will be led by Kate Judd, the congregation's spiritual leader, assisted by members of the congregation. Judd, a Brattleboro resident, is an advanced student in the Cantor Education Program at Hebrew College in Newton, Mass., a seminary based on the principle that rigorous pluralistic education is essential to building and sustaining a vibrant Jewish community.

She has studied with prominent cantors and rabbis and has a graduate performance degree in classical voice. She has performed throughout New England as oratorio and operatic soloist and was a service leader at several synagogues before becoming the spiritual leader of the Brattleboro Area Jewish Community.

Members of the community, their guests, area residents and visitors, and students in residence at nearby schools are welcome to attend high holiday services. Although tickets are not needed, the congregation depends on donations from guests to help cover the costs of the services. No one will be turned away, but suggested donations of $100 per person for each holiday are greatly appreciated. Children under the age of 13 and students in residence at area schools are welcome without donations.

Rosh Hashanah services will begin at 7 p.m. on Sept. 24, at the West Village Meeting House of All Souls Church on South Street in West Brattleboro, and continue there the next day at 9:30 a.m. People who wish to observe the traditional second day of services are welcome to meet at the congregation's own synagogue at 151 Greenleaf St. in West Brattleboro, on Thursday at 9:30 a.m.

Yom Kippur services begin on Friday, Oct. 3 at 7:00 at the West Village Meeting House with the beautiful and haunting Kol Nidre prayer and continue there the next day at 9:30 a.m. There is a Yizkor service (special memorial prayers remembering and honoring the departed) at 11:30 a.m., a retelling of the story of Jonah at 5 p.m. and Ne'ilah, the closing service at 6 p.m.

On Yom Kippur, 24 hours are spent in prayer and contemplation, with no food or drink from 7 p.m. Friday night until after sunset on Saturday night. As the long day ends, the Ne'ilah service portrays the Gates of Heaven slowly closing as the last prayers of atonement are offered to God.

Like people everywhere, Jews are comforted by the belief that if they really strive to make themselves better than they were in the past, God will forgive them and grant them life.

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