An end and a beginning during new year holiday
For Jews, the year 5766 officially begins today on the eve of Rosh Hashana.
For all Judaism, the celebration puts aside failures of the past year and embraces a new commitment for a better year to come.
At Chabad Jewish Center of Cape Coral and Temple Judea Conservative of Fort Myers, the high holiday marks a particular end and beginning.
“Rosh Hashana is a time that the soul gets called,” said Rabbi Yossi Labkowski of Cape Coral after he practiced blowing the shofar, a ram’s horn.
“The shofar is what we blow as a wake-up call to all the Jews to tell that it is a time to return to their religion, to come to God,” he said. “It is never too late for anyone to do that.”
Labkowski, 26, and his wife, Rivky, 24, moved from Brooklyn, N.Y., just before the high holidays last year to build a new Chabad Lubavitch congregation.
An offshoot of Hasidic Judaism, they embrace joy and spirituality as they await their Messiah, whom they believe is coming soon.
Labkowski now teaches more than 75 households in his congregation. His community includes Jews from all backgrounds, affiliations and walks of life.
He has noticed that today people are searching for more Judaism than what they were given by their parents as they were growing up.
Of one man, Labkowski said, “He tells me, ‘As I am getting older, I feel what I am missing. I should really get back to my source, to my roots and my religion.’ “
For the Labkowskis, the year ahead means working hard to attract more members in the hope of building a synagogue.
At Temple Judea, Cantor Victor Geigner marks the one-year anniversary of his first visit here from his home in Buenos Aries, Argentina.
Geigner came as a temporary cantor for the high holidays in 2004. He made an impression on the congregation, which worked hard to bring him here in April on a three-year contract.
The year ahead for him will be a new opportunity in a new country to perfect the vocation he began as a 16-year-old.
“The music, especially on the high holidays, helps people to transform themselves close to God,” said Geigner, 39, who prefers to use traditional melodies for the holidays.
He likes to imagine the youngest members of the congregation hearing the same tunes his grandfather first heard as a child.
“It’s tradition,” he said.
Like Labkowski and Geigner, Jews throughout Southwest Florida use the high holidays to evaluate their lives and “raise things that need to be raised up to a higher level, a holier level,” said Rabbi Benjamin Sendrow of Temple Judea.
The high holidays are a 40-day period that began this year on Sept. 3. After Rosh Hashana, the observance continues another 10 days until Yom Kippur.
“By tradition, we consider this to be the anniversary of the creation of the world and humanity,” said Sendrow, who is rabbi for about 200 households.
Labkowski said the high holidays give Jews an opportunity to conquer their weaknesses with new spiritual strength.
“Every year there is a new power and a new light that comes into the world that has never been there since the world was created,” he said.
“It stirs your Jewish soul.”