Jewish High Holy Days begin tonight

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 26, 2003

Soft-spoken Ed Ember, president of Temple Mishkan Israel, is extending an invitation to fellow Selmians to join in his congregation’s annual High Holy Days observances that begin tonight at 8 o’clock at the temple with the celebration of Rosh Hashanah. A Saturday service will be held at the temple at 10 a.m.

The conclusion of the 10-day period, also known as the Days of Awe, will be Yom Kippur services held on Sunday, Oct. 5, at 8 p.m., and Monday, Oct. 6, at 10 a.m., followed by memorial/concluding services at 4 p.m. Monday.

The Rosh Hashanah services will be led by Rabbi Debra Kassoff, who will come to Selma from the Goldring Woldenberg Institute for Southern Jewish Life based in Jackson, Miss.

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The Yom Kippur services, in turn, will be conducted by Steve Grossman, a member of the Selma Jewish community.

Rosh Hashanah is the first day of Tishri, the seventh month of the Jewish calendar, and Yom Kippur the tenth. The Jewish day is the 24-hour period beginning at sundown.

Ember pointed out that these 10 days are the most sacred on the Jewish Calendar and that they celebrate the beginning of the year 5764 for Jews &045; 5,764 years since Creation. This is a time of year when Jews worldwide renew their faith, according to Ember.

Rosh Hashanah (sundown Friday until sundown Saturday) has the character of New Year celebration, while Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the most solemn day of the entire Jewish year. The Days of Awe are a time when individual Jews focus on repentance for sins committed against God. The shofar is blown at the beginning of Rosh Hashanah to signal the start of the new year.

On Rosh Hashanah it is believed that God records the destiny of all humanity in the Book of Life, and that in the 10 days that follow, opportunity is given to repent of all sins committed against God in the previous year, so that on the 10th day, when the Book of Life is closed and sealed by God for the year, penitents can expect to be included. Hence, the saying among Jews to one another during the High Holy Days, &uot;May you be inscribed in the Book of Life.&uot;

It is believed that the penitent will be given a good new year by God.

Yom Kippur is also a time of remembering loved ones who have died. Ember said that at the beginning of the High Holy Days that he asks members to give him names of family members and others whom they wish to be remembered in the concluding service of the Yom Kippur observance.

Ember said that the services are normally well attended and that many townspeople join their Jewish friends.

The service, he said, will not be totally unfamiliar to Christians. After all, Christian worship was derived from Jewish worship. There is adoration, prayer, reading of Scripture, a sermon, singing and a benediction.

The text which is always used for this observance comes from Genesis 22, the story of the binding of Isaac by Abraham, he said.

According to Ember, there have been Jews in Selma since the 1830s. The Congregation Mishkan Israel (translated &uot;home of Israel&uot;) was founded in 1867. Pictures of prominent turn-of-the-century Jewish merchants are displayed in a room devoted to Jewish history. Three members of the congregation, he noted, served as mayor of Selma in that period.

The high-water mark for the congregation was the early 1940s, he said, when membership was approximately 145. Today there are only 18 members, and Ember can foresee the day when the congregation will cease to exist.

The congregation is presently involved in a major fund-raising effort with a goal of $1 million to restore the building, built in 1899, to pristine condition.

Eventually the hope is that it will join several others in the South as a museum of Southern Jewish life as it once existed.

Ember did not seem to be sad about the prospect. He was excited that the story of his people would continue through a well-designed and supported museum.

In the meantime he said he hopes the congregation’s many friends in Selma will come to the temple for the first of the series of services this evening, beginning at 8 p.m.

Temple Mishkan Israel is located at 503 Broad St. For further information call Ed Ember, 875-4439.