Shanah Tovah! Area rabbis prepare for Rosh Hashanah
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins sundown tonight and lasts through Friday, celebrating the beginning of the year 5774, according to the Jewish calendar.
The Jewish New Year is a time for the area's 1.8 million Jews to connect with family and to worship in area temples, which often see attendance double during the first of the High Holy Days.
Rosh Hashanah is a time to remember "we all have the opportunity to create ourselves anew -- that any moment in our lives can be a moment to think about God and becoming holy," said Rabbi Bill Plevan of Congregation Shaare Zedek on the Upper West Side.
Plevan is one of New York's many rabbis who are honing their sermons to help worshippers reflect on the year that has passed and inspire congregants to improve themselves in the one that is beginning.
"We are striving for excellence, to be a better person. Jewish tradition recognizes that we all have weaknesses and it's hard to be perfect, but it's important to be kind and compassionate and as faithful as we can be," Plevan explained.
Plevan plans to talk about how "Jewish values and Jewish thinking" should be "a part of our every day lives."
While he may mention current events, Plevan will avoid the explicit discussion of politics in order to not alienate congregants. "I want to find common ground in what I teach people to help them grow but a political message can turn them off. Conversations are a powerful way to change minds, but a sermon is not a conversation," Plevan explained.
Rabbi Steven Exler of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale plans to address the importance of cultivating inclusiveness and openness in one's dealings with others, using the shofar -- the ram's horn used to herald the New Year -- as a metaphor.
"It begins with a narrow opening and ends with a broad opening. I want to send the message that we have to grow," he explained. "We have a better chance of peace and harmony if we can expand to see other people's points of view. ... Even in our own Jewish community, we struggle to get along with people whose world views and practices are different from ours," said Exler.
Exler wants to drive home the point that introspection and reaching out to others will help "build a better tomorrow."
Associate Rabbi Elie Weinstock of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun said he hopes his sermon will prompt his congregants to think, to realize that ancient traditions and the liturgy can "address the modern condition. I want to challenge them to take their Judaism and their relationships with friends, family, and community more seriously."