Posts Tagged 'Rosh Hashanah'

What year is this?

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, was yesterday. Literally translated, it is the head of the year.

Jewish holidays, the anniversary of a death, and other events are based on the lunar, rather than the solar, or secular, calendar. For someone observing the event based on the lunar calendar, Rosh Hashanah, like all Jewish holidays, falls on a different secular date every year. This date may vary by several weeks at summer’s end. Hence, we Jews say things like “the holiday is early this year” or “goodness, Rosh Hashanah is late this year.”

But, according to Rabbi Mike, it really depends on your point of view. When I tell him that Rosh Hashanah is early this year, he says “No it’s not, it’s on the same day and month that it was last year, the first of Tishrei.” For good measure, he also notes that the year is 5779, not 2018.

There are twelve months including the month of Tishrei in the Jewish year. Each is thirty days long, except for one month. The determination of Jewish years began somewhere in the middle ages. The Torah wasn’t particularly helpful in solving the question of when did the world begin. So the sages used some fancy footwork. Their Ingredients included the Torah-stipulated ages of the patriarchs, the rise and fall of kingdoms, seasonal occurrences, and gut feelings. So here we are in 5779.

The Jewish lunar calendar has been used for hundreds of years, and if it were not occasionally adjusted to match up with the secular or solar calendar, our seasonal events would soon be totally out of whack. The fourth of July would be in December and Hannukah would be in the summer. To address the issue, Jews occasionally add a day or subtract a day from some months. Jewish leap years can have as many as 385 days, or an extra month.

The secular, or Gregorian calendar, introduced by Pope Gregory in 1582, has its own, though less complicated, eccentricities.  Gregory’s invention largely replaced the Julian calendar introduced by Julius Caesar in 45 BC. The Gregorian calendar has 365 days with an extra day every four years (leap year) except in years divisible by 100 but not divisible by 400. Keep that in mind at your New Year’s Eve party in 2100.

Not everyone has adopted either the Jewish or Gregorian calendar. For example, based on the ancient Coptic calendar, the Ethiopian Calendar is seven to eight years behind the Gregorian calendar, due to alternate calculations in determining the date of the birth of Jesus. For those who yearn to be younger, take a trip to Addis Ababa.

In spite of the calendar’s quirks, Jackie and I managed to get to the Temple on the right day and at the right time. This was a special day in many ways. For me, it centers on the friends who gather with us. Friends who may only visit the Temple on Rosh Hashanah and those who are regulars. The day is warmed by the presence of all.

Conversation with the Kaplan grandchildren who are in Temple for the first time since the death of their grandfather. Alan, the Temple president, sweeping the crumbs from the floor during the blessing of bread and wine. Welcoming our new Rabbi who, in an earlier life, was not Jewish. John, who graciously offered me his kipah, or skullcap, that I had admired a few weeks ago. Listening to Phil simply and eloquently read poetry from the prayer-book. Thanking the choir members for their dedication to making the day richer.

And Jackie, who repeatedly practiced the blessings said when you are called to the Torah for an Aliyah, an honor reserved for one who has shown special devotion to serving the Temple and its congregants. In recognition of our special relationship, and especially sweet, was that Jackie and I were asked to offer these blessings together.

As proof of her penchant for leaving nothing to chance, Jackie had printed the blessings and downloaded an audio recording. I was also drafted in the preparations and practiced the blessings with her at home, in the car and while we walked the streets of Ojai.

On the morning of Rosh Hashanah, Jackie donned a black, sleeveless dress. Tempting but appropriate, she shone. Topping it off with daughter Sammy’s bat mitzvah tallit, or prayer shawl, she was immaculate, lovely and ready.

At Temple, Jackie sat anxiously next to me and awaited our Aliyah. Forsaking the laminated blessing  sheet available to us in front of the ark, she tightly clutched her now wrinkled, printed blessings, as though someone was going to snatch them from her. I could hear her heart beat.

Third in a line of those with an Aliyah, we were at last called to the pulpit. The congregation quieted. Jackie touched the corner of her tallit to the Torah portion being read. And then took the same corner to her lips. We chanted the first blessing. The Torah portion was read by Rabbi Mike. We chanted the final blessing…We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, who has given us a Torah of truth, implanting within us eternal life. We praise You, O God, Giver of the Torah.

We went back to our seats. I smiled. She smiled. It didn’t matter whether Rosh Hashanah was early this year.

Time to Forgive

It’s hot and Rosh Hashanah starts Wednesday.  Figures.

Ever since I was a kid, people would say “don’t worry, it’s always hot for the holidays.”  I believed them.  I thought it was some kind of cruel punishment in addition to the retribution promised us in the synagogue.  And then a few years ago I checked the weather records and found that it wasn’t always hot for the holidays.  I told folks about it.  To no avail.  Their minds were made up.

We spend a lot of time on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur asking forgiveness.  Forgiveness for deceitful acts, wanton lust, greed, lack of charity, fear of strangers…it’s an all-inclusive list.  You name it, we got it.

There are those, like me, who journey to the synagogue but once, maybe twice a year.  There are many more who plan to go but find a reason to stay away.  And then there are others who say “duh, what day is today?”   So after much thought and as my first charitable act of the Jewish new year, I’ve decided to do it for them.

For John Boehner…please forgive him for that glorious tan while the less fortunate have to live in the dark corners of our world.

For Mitch McConnell…please forgive him for standing in the way of just about everything while waiting for his turn in the spotlight.

For Charlie Rangel…please forgive him for thinking he could get away with it.

For Sarah Palin…please forgive her for making a mockery of the political process in her pursuit of wealth.

For Meg Whitman…please forgive her for spending a hundred million dollars on a run for an office that nobody really wants, while at the same time turning right, left and center depending on the way the wind blows.

For Jan Brewer…please forgive her for lying about beheadings, the crime rate and the appearance of sea monsters in downtown Phoenix, and using those lies to agitate an already confused electorate.

For Glenn Beck…please forgive him for using his considerable dramatic skills to first alienate everyone to the left of Ghengis Kahn and then, courtesy of  a holy revelation, proclaim that this country’s salvation can come only through God.

For Newt Gingrich…please forgive him for demonizing Muslims in pursuit of his political agenda.

For Michele Bachmann…please forgive her…where do I begin?

For Antonin Scalia…please forgive him for believing that his fundamentalist view of the Constitution relieves him from being compassionate.

For Hamid Karzai…please forgive him for skilfully playing the United States for the suckers we are.

For Tony Blair…please forgive him for publishing a book.

For George Bush…please forgive him for a war we didn’t need, spending like a drunken sailor, setting science back a decade or two, and laying in the weeds while other ex-presidents contribute their not inconsiderable talents.

For Barack Obama…please forgive him for thinking that he could bring civil discourse back to an ever polarizing political process, settling for second best, and forgetting what made him so attractive to us.

For Lou Piniella…who thought he could bring the Cubs into contention and broke my heart trying.

And for those who’ll throw the current bums out in November in the hope of something better…I forgive you.


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