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Rosh Hashanah Begins Wednesday Night

Credit reena.org

The High Holy Days are upon us, with Jews in Pensacola and around the world preparing their observances.

First up is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year 5778, which begins at sundown Wednesday and ends at nightfall on Friday.

“Rosh Hashanah is one of four biblical New Year’s, that’s a spiritual new year,” says Rabbi Joel Fleekop at Temple Beth-el in Pensacola – founded in 1876, it’s Florida’s oldest Jewish congregation.

“And over time, it’s become a time for the gathering of the Jewish community,” Fleekop said. “For coming together to begin this work of repentance; of reflecting of the year gone by, as we look ahead to the year to come.”

The “Days of Awe” are important times in Judaism, says Fleekop, to reflect on one’s mortality, the direction of one’s life and the direction in which one would like it to go.

“One of the dominant metaphors is this notion of a ‘Book of Life’ that on these days – on Rosh Hashanah is written [and] on Yom Kippur is sealed – who will live and who will die,” said Fleekop. We understand that’s a metaphor but this idea that we and God are looking back at our lives and evaluating things.”

Rabbi Joel Fleekop, Temple Beth-el Pensacola.
Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
Rabbi Joel Fleekop, Temple Beth-el Pensacola.

One of the customs of the Jewish New Year is to “raise a noise,” along with special prayers. The former includes the sounding of the shofar. The ram’s horn is blown each morning for the entire month preceding Rosh Hashanah.

“The shofar, in biblical times, is used to announce new months; to move troops, but also to gather people together,” said Fleekop. “Today the shofar announces the New Year. It also helps us like an alarm clock going off, to call us to the work of repentance as we try to do better in the year to come.”

God, says Fleekop, is spoken of as both a loving and forgiving parent, along with reminders of the power of God, like a king who has a firm rule.

And the food during Rosh Hashanah is pretty good, too.

“Most famously would be the idea of dipping apples in honey; that’s symbolic of a sweet new year,” said Fleekop. “Other customs include eating things we haven’t had in a while like an exotic fruit, as we want to start off this New Year with a new experience.”

While both are solemn holidays, Rosh Hashanah is more of a celebration compared to Yom Kippur a week later. Eating takes place during the New Year observance, while fasting and solemn reflection are part of the Day of Atonement. And the timing of the holidays remains constant.

“Rosh Hashanah usually falls in September-October; [it’s] the first day of the 7 th month of the Hebrew calendar,” Fleekop said. “The Hebrew calendar is a lunar-solar hybrid, so it will fluctuate a little bit.”

Temple Beth-el, Pensacola
Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
Temple Beth-el, Pensacola

At Temple Beth-el, Rosh Hashanah services are at 7:30 Wednesday evening, and at ten o’clock Thursday morning. Rabbi Joel Fleekop says the liturgy is different and the music tends to be a little more formal compared to other times of the year. 

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Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.