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Rosh Hashana, or Jewish new year / Illustration by tomert (Depositphotos)

High Holy Days: Spokane’s Jewish Community Welcome’s New Year 5782

High Holy Days: Spokane’s Jewish Community Welcome’s New Year 5782

Spokane’s Jewish community begins celebrating their High Holy days Sept. 25 with Rosh Hashana, the start of their Jewish new year.

This news story was made possible by contributions to FāVS from readers and members like you. Thank you.

By Annemarie Frohnhoefer

The Jewish community in Spokane, and all over the world, is welcoming the new year beginning at sundown on Sunday (Sept.25). Rosh Hashana is celebrated with family and friends, celebratory and traditional foods, religious music, chants, prayer and reflection. 

Iris Berenstein / Contributed

“These are very spiritual days,” says Iris Berenstein, the education director at Temple Beth Shalom on Spokane’s South Hill. “They are days of reflection and reconnecting with everything around you, including God.”

Berenstein, who has lived in Spokane for 25 years and raised three boys here, shares her knowledge and respect for the “different levels and layers” of these significant days in the Hebrew calendar, from symbolism to religious practices.

Coming Together For a Meal

Family and friends gather in one another’s homes to share what Berenstein describes as a “beautiful meal.” Each item on the menu is not only tasty, but symbolic.

Challah, an egg-based, kosher bread, is usually shaped into a rectangular, braided loaf. For Rosh Hashana, the loaf is round to symbolize the circle of life. Berenstein explains that the round loaf “has no edges, no beginning or end.” 

A round loaf of bread is not only symbolic of the cycle of life, but it also recognizes the desires of those who eat it. Celebrants hope for a well-rounded year full of wholeness and smooth edges.

Pomegranate seeds are another Rosh Hashana treat. The seeds represent all of the good deeds that individuals might perform over the course of the new year. 

The quintessential elements of a Rosh Hashana table are apple slices and honey. Apples are hardy and resilient. Honey is sweet. Anyone dipping an apple slice in honey is preparing for a sweet new year.

There are many variations on these themes, but a Rosh Hashana meal highlights sweetness, connectedness and community.

Coming Together for Worship

After the meal, observers of the Jewish faith celebrate the spiritual aspect of the upcoming days. The 10 days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is a time for all who observe the Jewish faith to reflect on what they have done in the previous year and to set intentions for the year to come. 

Judaism is an ancient religion with roots and branches that spread across the world. As a result, there are different philosophies and interpretations of doctrine. But all Jewish congregations recognize the High Holy Days, and they each practice traditions that go back thousands of years.

Chabad of Spokane County, on Spokane’s South Hill, is an Orthodox Jewish congregation that follows the philosophy and practices of Chabad-Lubavitch. Chabad’s website explains the significance of the shofar, a musical instrument made of a hollowed ram’s horn (or other kosher animal) that is blown like a trumpet to signify special occasions from the past and to deepen the listener’s connection with God.

Shofar horn / Illustration by tomert (Depositphotos)

A person who observes Rosh Hashana and hears the shofar sound at a morning service is believed to have fulfilled a religious duty. This religious good deed is called a mitzvah.

The shofar isn’t unique to Chabad of Spokane County, or to Orthodox congregations in general. Temple Beth Shalom, a liberal Conservative congregation, also includes the shofar in its services. Congregation Emanu-El, a Reform Jewish congregation, participates in several joint services with Temple Beth Shalom during the High Holy Days.

During services, celebrants show their appreciation for the creation of the world and recognize the beginning of a new cycle in the life of the world. Celebrants begin to take an accounting of the previous year, to include both the good and bad, and to consider ways to improve during the upcoming year.

The Holiest Day Begins at Sunset

After 10 days of reflection and contemplation, those who observe Yom Kippur put those reflections into practice. Also known as the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the Hebrew calendar. On this day, says Berenstein, “It is customary to apologize for all wrongs you have done.”

She goes on to say that the apologies don’t have to be for big things. It is a personal accounting and the purpose is to become a better person in the new year.

“Be sure that the day is over, look for three stars in the sky,” says Berenstein. When it is dark enough to see three stars, then Yom Kippur begins and so does the fast. Observers of the holy day fast for 27 hours. Yom Kippur services are held in the evening. When the services are over, the community breaks the fast. 

“We have lots of water,” Berenstein says with a laugh before describing the potluck, honey cakes, apples and other trappings of the shared community meal.

For Those Far From Home

Gonzaga students go home for Christmas holidays and New Year celebrations, which works well for those whose religion follows the Gregorian calendar. Gonzaga’s Jewish students, faculty and staff observe the holiest day of the Hebrew calendar while school is in full swing. This could be lonely, especially for first year students. However, Rabbi Elizabeth Goldstein is ending the isolation.

Rabbi Elizabeth Goldstein / Contributed

She spoke to FāVs on the same day as Gonzaga’s Study Abroad Fair and enthusiastically shared that she met a number of Jewish students while promoting the university’s Israel study-abroad option. 

“Seeing these students at the study abroad fair shows that it is really important that we’re providing these services now,” she says.

Goldstein is referring to the university’s first, on-campus High Holy Days services that will be held this year. Last year, the university purchased a Torah. The historic purchase, as well as a dedicated sanctuary on campus, prompted Goldstein to create the first High Holy Day services for the Gonzaga community. 

“It’s exciting to have options,” continued Goldstein. “People can attend services here [at Gonzaga] as well as Temple Beth-Shalom and other places. Or they can go to all of them.”

Where to Celebrate

All community members, regardless of faith or belief, are invited to attend services throughout Spokane. 

Contact Rabbi Goldstein here for details about Gonzaga’s services. Attendees will break their Yom Kippur fast with bagels, cream cheese, lochs and other foods. Certainly, the menu will be full of sweets.

Those interested in attending services at Temple Beth Shalom or Congregation Emanu-El are invited to reserve a place in the synagogue. You can also view services via the temple’s website

Chabad of Spokane County’s website offers online registration for services and the opportunity to hear the shofartwice at morning services.

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