Whitman, Walla Walla synagogue combine to observe Rosh Hashana

Nicole Likarish

Last Wednesday at sundown, Jewish communities worldwide began ringing in the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashana marks not only the celebration of the creation of the world and the start of another year, but also ushers the Days of Awe, a 10-day period of penitent introspection culminating in Yom Kippur, a final day of atonement.

Blowing the traditional shofar, an instrument made from a ram’s horn, awakened believers offer ancient prayers and poetry heavy with themes of relief and repentance in order to reconcile sins of the past year and to start anew.

Twenty-five members of Whitman’s own Hillel Shalom took part in services at the Congregation Beth Israel in Walla Walla. The group is affiliated with the national organization of Jewish college students of the same name and works in an active partnership with the community congregation. This year’s holiday was celebrated both at the synagogue and on campus.

Following prayers at the synagogue on Wednesday evening was a traditional reception, an omeg, in which apples and honey covered banquet tables inviting guests to get a sweet start to a sweet year. Visitors greeted one another with “Shana Tova Umetukah,” a wish that translates as the wish of “A Good and Sweet Year.”

The holiday lasted until Thursday at sundown. That morning, prayers were offered again at the synagogue, punctuated with the call of the shofar. Intended to wake sinners from their sleep and reinvigorate their faith, the shofar calls, “Wake up from your sleep. You are asleep. Get up from your slumber. You are in a deep sleep. Search for your behavior. Become the best person you can. Remember God, the One Who created you.”

In the afternoon, believers organize observances of tashlikh near natural water. The practice involves reciting prayers near the water and then throwing pebbles or bread into the water to symbolize the “casting off” of sins. And so as Jews in New York City cast their sins and bread off the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges and Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem found isolated fish ponds to do the same, Whitman’s own Jewish group participated in the sacred ritual at the shores of Lakum Duckum.

Deeming this year’s observance a success, Rachel Stein, president of Hillel Shalom, is already looking forward to additional programming for Jewish students.

“Every year the campus has more and more active Jews and other people just interested in learning about what we do.” Stein also says the group plans to work with others on campus sharing similar intercultural focuses.
This is a busy time on the Jewish calendar: Yom Kippur is fast approaching and Hillel Shalom is already planning for the upcoming sukkot festival. Prayer offerings and a break-fast are scheduled at the synagogue for Yom Kippur and Whitman’s group is possibly taking on the construction of a traditional sukkah to be placed on the Reid side lawn. The harvest celebration involves the construction of these booths in which Jews dwell in during the holiday.

“It’s a chance to sleep outside,” Stein describes, “you can see the stars through the roof and decorate with harvest symbols like pumpkin and squash. It also makes for a great public display to help us educate the student body.”

Hillel Shalom meets every Friday at 5p.m. and encourages all who are interested to come and learn more.