Jewish people to celebrate two most important holidays

The holiest period of the Jewish calendar begins Sunday evening with the start of a new year.

The holiest period of the Jewish calendar begins Sunday evening with the start of a new year.

Rosh Hashana, which recognizes the new year of the Jewish calendar, begins after sundown on Sunday and starts a festive period that culminates in the Yom Kippur holiday, which starts on Sept. 25.

Rabbi Ted Lichtenfeld of Congregation Agudat Achim in Niskayuna will greet his members with apples and honey as part of the evening service on Sunday. “That’s to welcome in a sweet new year,” he said.

At his synagogue and other Conservative or Orthodox synagogues, the Jewish new year celebration stretches to Tuesday, with services Monday and Tuesday morning. The celebration for Reform congregations ends on Monday night.

One of the benefits of the extended holiday for members of an Orthodox or Conservative congregation is that there are more opportunities to blow the shofar, a ram’s horn that is blown on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. For Congregation Agudat Achim, the horn is blown at morning services on Monday and Tuesday. Lichtenfeld described the event as a high point of each service.

The horn isn’t without a purpose, though, said Irit Magnes, cultural director for the Schenectady JCC. “It is also meant to awaken us,” she said, “so we become more aware and honest.”

Another popular tradition of the holiday is the Tashlich, which is a symbolic way of getting rid of one’s sins.

Sue Litynski, executive director at Congregation Gates of Heaven in Schenectady, said they have settled on a version of the Tashlich that is very popular with children in the group. After an afternoon service on Monday, the children are brought to Central Park in Schenectady, where they toss pieces of bread into a moving body of water, which represents the symbolic practice of throwing sins away.

“The kids love it,” Litynski said.

Congregation Shaara Tfille in Saratoga Springs has its unique twist on the Tashlich, according to congregation president Pam Polacsek. For the second year, they’ll be going to the boat launch in Saratoga Lake, where members can throw in matzo meal crumbs and listen to the blowing of the shofar.

At the heart of the celebration, though, is families coming together. Families in Reform congregations gather on Sunday or Monday night and members of Conservative and Orthodox congregations also get together on Tuesday night.

“In my family, and I think it’s consistent with a lot of families, the families get together and discuss family members that we have lost,” Polacsek said. “It keeps traditions old and new together.”

A tradition that can be unique to each family is the food that people gather around. Polacsek said the two most common meals revolve around turkey or brisket.

One unique food for the holiday is a round challah loaf that represents the completion of the year, according to Magnes of the Schenectady JCC. The bread is also prepared to be sweeter than usual, with fruits like raisins included.

Most services on Sunday will begin around 6:30 p.m. Morning services vary for Monday and Tuesday.

Categories: Schenectady County

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