February 23, 2020

Three Chances to Break Your Resolutions

Photo from Pexels.

“Eid-eh shoma mobarak,” I said to my aunt over 30 years ago in Iran, wishing her a happy Persian New Year.

“Thank you, Tabby joon. Do you know what year it is?” she asked.

“No, auntie. What year is it?”

“It’s 1366.”

1366 sounded like a pretty big number, until HIAS brought my family to Italy as refugees, and my mother enrolled my sister and me in a Jewish day care program.

“Yeladim,” the rabbi asked us one day, “Who knows what year it is?”

Just as I was about to raise my hand, he said, “It’s 5745.”

I was astounded. 5745 sounded even bigger than 1366.

The following year, I sat in a first-grade classroom in a Beverly Hills public school and watched with rapt attention as the teacher wrote a number on the chalkboard.

“Kids, when you come back from winter break, do you know what year it’ll be?”

Thank goodness she didn’t look to me for an answer. I’d already embarrassed myself enough those first few months at my new American school, especially given that I was learning English mostly from the TV show “The A-Team” and responding to the teacher’s questions with quotes from Mr. T.  I wanted to blurt out “5745,” but I didn’t need another clueless notch on my acculturation belt.

I began to dig deeper and welcomed the constant renewal as a great blessing to maintain a self-audit every three months.

The teacher proceeded to write 1990 on the board, handed out some candy canes and dismissed the class.

That night at our family dinner table, I was more confused than ever.

“Mom, do the Americans have their own year coming up soon?” I asked.

My mother thought and responded, “I think that’s the day Jesus became a rabbi.”

“No, no, no,” interjected my father, who, in the mid-1970s, went to college in the U.S. “That’s the day he was born, I think.”

As we later learned, Christmas marked the celebration of Jesus’ birth, and no one in our family is still quite sure when he was rabbinically ordained.

So began the charm of identity confusion as an Iranian American Jew: a new year in the fall (Rosh Hashanah), a new year in the winter (per the Gregorian calendar), and finally, another new year in the spring (Persian New Year/the spring equinox).

As a child, it was all fun and frivolous, until I grew up and faced not one, but three annual backbreaking attempts at new years’ resolutions. That’s a lot of renewed and canceled gym memberships.

Eventually, I began to dig deeper and welcomed the constant renewal as a great blessing to maintain a self-audit every three months or so, as a compassionate way to ask myself with truth and accountability, How am I doing?

Most people look toward Jan. 1 as the somber day when “all the fun stops” and the resolutions begin, but if I’ve learned anything as a Jew, it’s that you can’t resolve any past unethical behavior until you access recognition, remorse and commitment to do better. This, in essence, is teshuvah, and it’s at the heart of Rosh Hashanah.

It’s primarily because I’m one of those sadists who loves a good self-audit that I revel in having three new years. In the fall, I look deeply for the roots to my emotional and physical drawbacks and identify ways to strengthen them. In the winter, I check to see how I’m doing.

There’s no guilt. Only compassion. But I won’t lie. The January assessment often involves a bathroom scale.

Finally, in the spring, I recommit myself to areas that still need work, understanding that the seeds to my growth simply may have been dormant that winter and waiting to sprout.

I think it’s an excellent, compassionate and above all, sustainable system in an age of trendy, vapid self-care and “self-renewal” gimmicks. You don’t have to be Persian or Jewish to give yourself not one, but three annual opportunities to live up to your soul’s highest potential.

It’s not as hard as it seems, especially not compared with the bane of my existence: Mother’s Day, which has its own version in the Persian calendar, only with twice the guilt.

Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer and speaker.

The Baker: Chapter Eight

One day a few years ago, Ernie called his son Morde, who works as a self-employed limousine driver in the Bay Area.

The brief discussion said much about their rough-edged relationship.

How maddening it was to have Ernie for a father.

“Why don’t you come up to Lake Tahoe?” Ernie asked. “It’s your birthday.”

“Yeah, it’s my birthday,” Morde responded. “Why don’t you come down here? You always come down to play poker with your friends. Come see your son.”

“I have a few hundred dollars for you.”

“I don’t need your money. If you won’t come down, put it into my account.”

“Oh, forget it,” Ernie said. “I don’t have time.”

And he hung up.

Morde understands his father. He isn’t rattled by Ernie’s brusque exterior.

“I don’t listen,” he says. “When he screams, it goes in one ear and out the other.”

Once, Morde recalls, Ernie was eating burgers at a restaurant with one of his Morde’s daughters, who was trying to explain a story to her grandfather. 

Ernie turned to her. 

“Listen,” he said. “When I’m eating, you’re dead.”

Morde laughs at the episode. 

“People get all upset and offended at the things he says, but that’s just him.”

Morde is sarcastic as well. 

He’s his father’s son, after all.

He’d tell Ernie on the phone: “Can’t you hear me? Get a hearing aid.” 

Or “Stop mumbling. You need a new set of teeth.”

And Ernie would laugh.

For a moment, defanged.

Morde understood his father. He knows he was a self-made businessman who worked long hours to carve out his own success. He knows how just one slip up in the kitchen can cost time and money. 

Ernie taught him: Do your job. If you can’t, step aside. Don’t waste his time. 

And Morde has always respected that.

Sure, Ernie yells, he says, but he’s never profane.

“And once you were out of his kitchen” Morde recalled, “everything was cool.”

For years, Ernie ran the Bay Area’s only kosher bakery. People came for his strudel.

Every Rosh Hashanah, his challah was in high demand. Customers needed him; not the other way around. 

And he knew that.

But here’s where the perfectionist part comes in, the character flaw that drove people from Ernie in droves. 

“In the beginning, Ernie did the baking, the marketing, the financial stuff. He bought all the raw materials for his products,” Morde said. 

“There was a lot of pressure. He did everything. He worked six days a week. He couldn’t delegate to anyone. He didn’t trust them. He thought he was the only one who could do things the right way.” 

Once, Ernie’s cashier took a day off. Ernie noticed the replacement girl clumsily putting a customer’s order into a small box, one pastry on top of the other.

He’d spent hours making his creations. Unlike the competition, which used machines to work their dough, Ernie did things the old fashioned way.

He stood at a table, 5-feet-by-2-feet, covered with a cloth. He set the oil-covered dough out the night before and then used his hands and muscle to stretch it out, firmly but cautiously, so there were no holes. 

Then he’d roll the dough and bake the results, covering the finished product with powdered sugar.

That day, Ernie knew the pastries would be crushed in the small box and called for a bigger one. He stepped up to scold the worker.

The female customer stopped him.

It was fine, she insisted.

Not for Ernie it wasn’t.

“No,” he said, “they have to be packed the right way.”

“Leave her alone,” the woman said. “She’s doing it right.”

Well, you can guess what happened.

Ernie told the woman to get out of his store. He didn’t need her business. These were his pastries; he knew how to handle them.

Morde says it’s been this way from the beginning. He’d seen how Ernie treated his second wife Shoshana in the kitchen.

“Nobody wanted to work there. It was like working alongside some crazy whirling dervish,” Morde recalled. ‘If she screwed up, even in the slightest way, there would be hell to pay.”

Once. Morde said, his father yelled at Shoshana for 20 minutes. 

“When he was done, he yelled for another ten minutes, saying she’d wasted his time by invoking the first tirade.”

As a boy, Morde was scared to even visit his father at work.

“I don’t want to hear all the yelling,” he’d tell his mother.

“Go, go,” Helen would say. “It’s OK.”

It wasn’t until he became a teenager that Morde tried sarcasm with his father. 

It worked.

When Ernie asked him to taste a new creation, he’d say, “It tastes like shit.”

“Good,” Ernie would fire back. “This one’s going to be a good seller.”

His father might have yelled and threw tantrums, Morde says, but he was also quick to stand up for his son.

Morde struggled in the first grade and teachers wanted to hold him back. 

But Ernie would have none of it. 

“He came to class every day and sat right behind me – like Gulliver among the Lilliputians. I had a gorilla behind me. Man, he was tough.”

Despite Ernie’s deep flaws, Morde still cared about his father. 

“It’s like having a little brother who you love and care for, but you really just can’t stand.”

Still, he knows he paid a high price for having a kitchen tyrant for a father.

“The thing I missed the most is that I never had a Dad to go do things with,” he said. 

“Mine was always working too hard.”

Carrying the High Holy Days’ Lessons Through the Rest of the Year

Photo by Chinnapong/Getty Images

October was a month filled with holiday festivities, meals, friends, gatherings and prayers — everything important in an active Jewish life. But after the month passes, do we take what we learned from our holidays and just forget about them on Nov. 1? Of course not.

We must appreciate what we did for the past month and how it prepared us to go forward through the next year. What do we take with us throughout the rest of the year?

Q: Why are apples dipped in honey?

A: The simple explanation we learned in grade school is: “So we can have a sweet new year.” This is a good answer and always a winner, but there is more. In our sukkah this year, we tried to capture them all.

At Rosh Hashanah, we dip apple in honey from bees, not the honey from dates referred to in the Bible as Israel’s “Land of Milk and Honey.” We use bee honey because of the duality of its creators. We know bees have two sides: one that can sting you and one that makes sweet honey.

We know life is full of stings. We are not so Pollyannaish as to believe that if we wish a sweet New Year, all we need is kindness. We are realists. We need to work throughout the year to make our New Year’s sweetness last. We must think of the words we use when speaking to others as well as to ourselves. Offer consideration to those with whom we interact on a regular basis. Smile at the cashier who has worked a 10-hour shift. Tell your child it’s fine to have the occasional bad test score.

Jews have come to understand that even if we experience life’s stings, we are blessed to taste the sweet honey that is the flipside of such a sting. Perhaps you must work overtime to finish a project at work; after it’s done, you have the satisfaction of knowing it is complete and done to the best of your ability. At Rosh Hashanah, we ask to grow spiritually and emotionally, and recognize the blessings that come from experiences — even the “bad” ones.

Q: Why is the challah round?

A: During Rosh Hashanah, the Almighty is compared with a king who humbly comes to us in the fields and asks us to crown Him. It shows the love and respect and interpersonal relationship we have with God. Round challah reminds us of the Divine characteristic of malchut, “kingship,” where we crown God as our King, and we ask Him to return us here the following year, “in full circle,” so we again may experience a new season, new fruit and new blossoms.

Q: What is the meaning of the sukkah and Sukkot?

A: My family and I used a round table in our sukkah to symbolize the malchut, and our hopes and aspirations. Sukkot is “The Feast of the Harvest.” It reminds us of the times our ancestors needed a place to stay when gathering their crops. Sukkot is a time to reflect on the bounty from the earth God bestowed upon us during Creation. Share what you can with a local food pantry throughout the year, not just during Thanksgiving or major religious holidays such as Passover.

Many decorated their sukkah walls, yet we follow the teachings of the Rebbe of Chabad, leaving our walls bare because the true ornaments in our sukkah are the guests surrounding our table. Each guest brings a world of experiences that grace us with the most beautiful and priceless adornments.

The schach (foliage branches) overhead in our sukkah bore the sweet smell of eucalyptus. Every year at this time, we trim our trees. The halachah is that the schach should only sparsely cover the top, enough that you have some refuge from the elements, but so you still see the stars above, allowing rain to come through. This is to remind us we are here only under God’s protection. While one might look at the sukkah and think it is a fairly stable structure, all you need to do is bump into any of the poles or walls to know everything around you is flimsy and temporary. This is the lesson we are supposed to learn from our time in the sukkah — that in life, we may think all that is around us is permanent, but in truth, it is all temporary. God placed us in this temporary world for a purpose.

On Sukkot, the very act of sitting in the sukkah is fulfilling the mitzvah of the holiday. We stay in the sukkah for seven days and seven nights, eating every meal in it and sleeping in it. Why the seven days? There are seven days of the week for our physical existence. We recognize that every part of our existence is temporary, and we are tasked with a mission to leave this world a better place than when we came into it. That lesson is represented by the pomegranate.

Q: What is the significance of Shemini Atzeret on the eighth day?

A: The eighth day is when Jews leave the sukkah and reenter their homes. Why should we celebrate this? Well, while we sat in the sukkah for seven days, we took to heart the lesson that the sukkah is our temporary existence; now, it is time to take the meaning of the sukkah, place it within us and go back into our “permanent” homes.

We realize that even those walls that seem much more durable are likewise temporary. This helps us realize that others may not be so fortunate, that even a sukkah somewhat exposed to the elements and without electricity is more shelter than others have. Take the time to remember those not as fortunate, and share the compassion with which God blessed us throughout the year. When the weather turns cold, take up a collection of hats, coats and blankets to donate to a homeless shelter.

We are alive to fulfill our mission of doing good on Earth. As seven days represent our creation, eight is a level above and exists only in the realm of God. We reenter our homes, ready to take our lessons from the sukkah and apply them to the remainder of the year, full circle, returning next year, as we thank God for that privilege.

Q: What is the meaning of Yom Kippur?

A: Yom Kippur is a time of reflection on oneself and on our personal relationship with God. Have we done what God has asked of us? Have we been compassionate? Have we followed His commandments? Have we been the best Jews we could be?

No one is perfect. We make mistakes and we learn from them. This is the message we should take away from Yom Kippur. We ask God and mere mortals for forgiveness for our transgressions, small or large. Perhaps you’ve never said, “Sorry, I was wrong” to your children, not wanting to upset the notion that parents are supposed to know everything and always be right. Yom Kippur is the time to acknowledge your faults and promise to try to do better.

This is not to say we won’t repeat some mistakes, but the memory of Yom Kippur and its tradition of fasting for 25 hours will carry on through the year. Remind yourself that it’s not just in October we should be good Jews and remember the positives for which our religion stands. Remember the lessons taught and learned during that month, and observe them until the next October comes around.

Dina Leeds is the vice president of Fred Leeds Properties in Los Angeles

The Year I Wanted Out of Religion

Small stone pebbles placed as an act of remembrance and respect below the Star of David. Photo by Oleksandra Korobova/ Getty Images

If you view the religious practices of Orthodox Jews as over the top, you might want to skip to another column.

Come to think of it, if you’re on the fence about whether to have children, you, too, might want to read something else.

Let me say what many observant mothers were thinking over the past few weeks, beginning with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Simchat Torah:
It’s too much.

Before I had kids, I imagined that caring for children during the High Holy Days was a time of fun and learning at home — like a short summer break. I was an idiot.

Summer break? You don’t spend hours shopping in crowded kosher markets, cooking and hosting every few days during summer break — all while trying to be in synagogue with little ones and adhering to strict religious laws.

On Rosh Hashanah, I was tired but cheerful. On Yom Kippur, I was bitter and exhausted. And by Shemini Atzeret, I was done.

In fact, I feel bad for Shemini Atzeret, because unless you attended Jewish school, which I didn’t, no one seems to know what it is. We’re supposed to ask God to tarry for another day of connection and joy. Because it was 92 degrees that day, I grumbled bitterly.

I’m not proud of this, but I would dislike Shemini Atzeret because it adds another day of observance to an overwhelmed month, if not for the fact that deeper Jewish sources allege our judgment is sealed on this day. Now I’m just scared
of it.

Can we give observant Jews license to say they sometimes struggle with  the demands of religious life?

I struggled with connecting to God and community this year perhaps because attending synagogue services was the benchmark of the High Holy Days for me before I had kids. Our oldest son didn’t want us to leave him in the kids’ playroom, which meant that my husband and I spent most of our time in synagogue sitting on the floor and watching toddlers play, argue and wipe their noses with anything but tissues — sometimes for hours.

And then, the head colds arrived. Two sick toddler boys and two tired, starving parents on Yom Kippur. Not to mention the fact that school was closed for what seemed like an eternity.

Depleted and depressed, I uttered something terrible to my husband — something I never thought I’d say because as someone who didn’t grow up religious, I’d worked so hard to achieve:

“I think I want out.”

Out of religious life.

Out of not being able to hop in a car to take the kids out for the day because it was a holy Yom Tov and driving is forbidden.

Out of not being able to turn to my saviors — the prophets Bert and Ernie — on such days, because electronic devices are also forbidden.

At one point, I wondered bitterly, Didn’t God have anything better to do than to be appalled if I turned on a kids’ TV show just so I could get seven minutes of time to myself?

I’m not usually like this. I love Judaism madly. Deeply. Insatiably.

Can we give observant Jews license to say they sometimes struggle with the demands of religious life?

The day that school restarted was better than a trip to Disneyland. But as I looked around an empty home, I realized that I’d never get this year’s High Holy Days season back in terms of how our children were right in those moments: little, totally needy and begging to stay in our arms.

Yes, they were sick, and no, I didn’t get to hear the shofar this year. But one afternoon, after days of listlessness from being sick, our oldest son picked up his toy shofar and began to blow away. Though it sounded like a broken kazoo, it signaled that he was finally better. I was so grateful although that little sound made my heart yearn for the real thing.

I was still overwhelmed and struggling with disconnection, but I yearned for the discordant, redemptive sound of the shofar. Maybe I didn’t want out. Maybe I really, really wanted in.

Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer and speaker.

From the Shadow to the Comforting Shade – Thoughts Before Sukkot

The shadow haunts us – this is an inexorable truth we learn throughout the Days of Awe. In the first act of the Days of Awe, Rosh HaShanah, we commit ourselves to the values and virtues, truths and axioms that should govern our lives. Something is sovereign in our lives beyond the will of the ego self. Rosh HaShanah, which celebrates the Sovereignty of the Divine, is a crucial first step in returning to the path of truth, but only a first step.

In the Days of Returning between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, we try to seek out the inner parts that resist those same values and virtues, truths and axioms to which we commit ourselves. People see themselves by the values they hold, but often don’t see that they act in ways that are contrary to their values, even destructive of those values. A chronic example I see: people often say to me that their deepest value is family. When they carefully examine how they speak and behave, they often see that something inside of them has tenaciously dismantled that same value.

One thing that is hard for us to realize is that values require prodigious effort, great vision, will and skill. Saying that you hold a given value might help in creating a sense of identity, but asking yourself continuously how to realize that value is another matter altogether. We do have to commit ourselves consciously to values, but then we must also examine the parts of our ego selves that are not on board. In the days after Rosh HaShanah, culminating in Yom Kippur, we are asked to courageously enter into what Carl Jung called the shadow self, the grotto of the Yetzer HaRa (destructive patterns), where forces that defy our values live – and conspire.

Yom Kippur, the second act of the 10 Days, with its focus on confession, has us enter the shadow self. Bringing the light of consciousness into the shadow self can make us very ill at ease. We see things we may not want to see. Bringing light into hidden chambers may make us look at our life’s story differently; we may have to redefine ourselves, admit that we are flawed characters on the hero’s journey. Perhaps we are not at fault – some of us truly have been traumatized by life, oftentimes by other people. In the shadow of the brutalized self, though, there can be a hidden decision to stay depressed, injured, paralyzed. All rehabilitation is painful and we tend to avoid it, whether it’s the spine or the spirit.

Yom Kippur is not sufficient to have us work through the shadow, but that day, or some day like it, is necessary and can be a start. From rappelling down into that grotto and bringing the light of consciousness into its damp and eerie atmosphere, something beautiful can happen. Some damaged part of the soul can call out, “Heal me.” 

If we can take at least one thing out of the shadow through our work on Yom Kippur, one can have the strange sense of a miracle beginning to happen, the miracle of transformation. As hard as we might work on whatever has been haunting us, nothing is guaranteed. There can be, however, an unexpected moment when the work translates into healing, or the beginning of healing.

For many of us, that experience of the truth of “tikkun ha-nefesh”, the repair of the soul, that experience of the truth of teshuvah, finding our way back to the true path, can fill us with extraordinary gratitude. Gratitude to what, exactly? To our tradition and its preservers for bequeathing to us these Days of Awe? To our teachers? For God’s guidance? For the beauty of the light, for the strength of our souls?

 We spend Yom Kippur in the shadow, to guide us on how to do this work and remind us that we must do this work, and then move, in the third act of the 10 Days, from the shadow into the comforting shade of the Sukkah (Sukkot begins Sunday night, October 13). The spiritual tradition calls the Sukkah (in Aramaic) “tzilah d’heimanuta”– the Covering Shade of Faith. Physically, we don’t move from Yom Kippur directly into our homes and take up life as usual. Many of us actually build a Sukkah and spend some time there as a way station, a half-way house, from the exhausting work of the Days of Awe toward the Shade of Faith. In that way station of the Sukkah, we focus on acknowledgment, gratitude and joy. We rest a bit, connect with our spiritual home. Even if you don’t have a Sukkah, you can take this concept into your life. Maybe the beach, a park, a hike – as long as you don’t go right away back into your schedule. If you’ve done the work, you might feel a bit raw, a bit drained. We need a pause, a spiritual (or actual) spa, rejuvenating medicinal spring waters.

Each of our holidays contains its own teaching for ongoing spiritual work. Supreme among those days are the Days of Awe, which culminate in Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. We are now entering the culmination of this holy season – from virtue and values, through the painful work of confronting the shadow, and now into the holy shade of gratitude and joy. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Mordecai Finley

The Alchemist

Courtesy of pxhere.com

Every Rosh Hashanah, I entreat God for a happy year. Like most people, I just want to be happy.

This Rosh Hashanah, something strange happened: I begged God to make me an alchemist.

Not happy. Not a source of pride for my family. But an alchemist.

Alchemists have one goal: to transform the inferior into the superior, the lowest into the highest.

Whether pseudoscience or historical lore, alchemists were said to turn lead into gold. But I would surmise that even the ones who dropped out of alchemy junior high school could turn lemons into lemonade, and that’s good enough for me.

In terms of mental lemons — or negative thoughts — no one cultivates more bitter trees than I do.

“Make me an alchemist,” I begged God, “because I won’t pray that negative thoughts not enter my mind; they do, and very frequently. All I ask is that after those thoughts arrive, that my mind can turn them into positive, productive thoughts, especially about other people.”

We all know that one person who, even on their best day, is an annoying lump of lead. How much richer we could be if only our minds could see that person as a nugget of gold. 

That friend who calls only when she needs something but doesn’t ask how you’re doing? Maybe she’s a new mother who’s exhausted and overwhelmed. That self-righteous friend-of-a-Facebook-friend who just called you a racist?  Maybe he grew up feeling helpless over a racist parent. The ayatollah who wants to annihilate Israel? Hey, I have my limits.

We all know that one person who, even on their best day, is an annoying lump of lead.

I didn’t ask God to eradicate bad thoughts from my mind. No alchemist ever sat in a deep, dark valley and asked that the inferior stones disappear altogether. Without all that lead, there would be nothing to turn into gold.

I used to contemplate undergoing hypnotherapy, which has helped people shed unwanted habits ranging from too many negative thoughts to smoking.

After decades of struggle, imagine having my dark thoughts eradicated in a few sessions of hypnotherapy?

So why haven’t I seen a hypnotherapist? Amazingly, I don’t want to stop negative thoughts from entering my mind.

Without these dark thoughts, I wouldn’t be me; I’d be like couscous without harissa; coffee without caffeine, and yes, Chinese food without MSG. As with everything, moderation is key.

There’s also something else: The sheer effort I use to transform negative thoughts into positive ones is a crucial source of pride; in fact, the effort, however unending, is its own reward.

I can’t imagine waking up tomorrow with nary a negative thought. What would I do? What hardships and basic human inclinations, however destructive, did I have to overcome to wake up as chipper as a bird in a Disney movie? None.

What are we in life without our tests?

I’m starting to see why the witches and sorcerers in fairy tales always appealed more to me than the happy princesses: They had depth, struggles and above all, there was a story behind all that darkness. If only we didn’t kill off fairy tale villains before giving them a chance at hard-earned clarity and renewal, however slow-paced. That sounds more Jewish to me.

If we navigate them well, our bad thoughts don’t have to be our enemies. “Come in,” we can offer sincerely. “Have some jasmine tea and watch me transform you.”

Author Elizabeth Gilbert once wrote an informal “Letter to Fear,” in which she concluded, “Your fear should always be allowed to have a voice, and a seat in the vehicle of your life. But whatever you do — don’t let your fear DRIVE.”

I’m working to get my bad thoughts buckled up. It’s the season for “Zman Simchateinu,” or “the time of our rejoicing,” and I’ve got some sukkahs to visit and lemonade to prepare.

Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer and speaker. 

A New Way to Support Israel in 5780

Rosh Hashanah is time for introspection and celebration. We reflect on all that has happened in the last year—our deeds, our relationships, and our impact. At the same time, we celebrate the start of a new year, and the chance to make new choices that reflect our values. Now is the time to put into practice the resolutions that we make. I’m very blessed to say that in 5779, after over 40 years in investment management, my colleagues and I combined our professional experience with our deep passion for supporting Israel into a new venture: The Jerusalem Portfolio (TJP).

For years, our strategic wealth advisory firm, RVW Wealth, has been trusted by clients for delivering the highest quality investment management and related services. Now, we’ve channeled our pride for the Jewish state into an investment vehicle that gives individuals, foundations, and institutions the opportunity to own a stake in Israeli-focused companies. It allows investors to tap into Israel’s rapidly-expanding economy and reflect their values in their portfolios.

Through TJP, investors can own fractional interests in a diversified group of over 100 top-tier Israeli-focused public companies that are delivering world-changing impact. Companies like Check Point Software Tech, Elbit Systems Ltd, Novocure Ltd, Wix.com Ltd, and more—spanning sectors from healthcare and technology, to energy and cybersecurity.

The modern state of Israel is doing good in the world through innovation—and Israeli entrepreneurs are doing well. In fact, just this year, the technology sector of the Israeli market reached several all-time highs, as measured by the BlueStar Israel Global Technology (BIGITech)® Index. The record-breaking growth of the Israeli market tech sector underscores the value of investing in Israeli-focused public companies. With TJP, investors gain unprecedented access to the Start-up Nation’s market, including companies tracked by the BIGITech® Index.

Tax efficient, low-cost, and completely liquid, TJP empowers community members to easily create a new account, which is an ideal gift for simchas. For as little as $180, a permanent bond with the State of Israel can be established, and in time, the recipient of the gift can add to it. Each gift is accompanied by a beautiful customized certificate and a graphic depiction of Jerusalem. TJP also offers access to the Israeli economy for larger portfolios for individuals, foundations, and retirement plans. And as part of RVW Wealth’s mission to give back, we also donate a portion of TJP fees on each account to Leket, Israel’s national food bank that is actively working to alleviate nutritional insecurity in the country.

TJP was developed by and is part of RVW Wealth, LLC, a registered investment advisor, to provide clients and others an investment opportunity that would have the biggest impact, not just on their bottom line, but also in doing good through supporting Israel. Our team members are pure fiduciary advisors with no conflicts of interest, and RVW Wealth has a multi-decade track record of delivering the highest quality investment management and related services.

The entire RVW Team is filled with pride when we think about the outpouring of passion for The Jerusalem Portfolio and the new opportunities it provides. We are seeing just how much our community cares about the future of the Jewish state, and how many want to be connected to Israel by investing in its economy. Just a few months after our launch, more than 23,000 people liked our Facebook page, and every day we see how excited our fans are as they like, comment on, and share our posts.

This new year is a time when proud supporters of Israel can embark on a new path: to invest with both their hearts and their heads and celebrate the ability to be bold and put their money where their mouths are. The Jerusalem Portfolio gives investors the ability to own a stake in the vibrant Israeli economy, counter delegitimization of the Jewish state, and achieve their financial goals through a highly competitive asset class.

We are deeply dedicated to this portfolio. It empowers investors to tap into Israel’s rapidly-expanding economy, all while embracing an unbreakable, centuries-old bond with the Jewish State. In 5780, we invite you to consider investing not only in your own future, but in Israel’s too. On behalf of our entire team, shana tovah and wishes for a sweet year filled with joy and new heights.

Selwyn Gerber is the co-founder and chief strategist of TJP and RVW Wealth. For more information, please visit the The Jerusalem Portfolio

How Mechilah Can Give Us a Model to Go Forward on Inclusion

Photo from Pexels

Many of us spend time leading up to the High Holidays helping congregations and organizations prepare to fully respectfully welcome Jews with disabilities into our communities and rituals. Most of the training is good, and the organizations are almost always earnest. Hence, we can get really optimistic and expect that everything needed will be implemented. And yet, as much as we are excited about the idea of how inclusive things will be, we must also always be aware that they will not be perfect every time.

When Yom Kippur ends, and people start taking stock of the inclusion efforts at their synagogue for the holidays, there will be stories, probably at every congregation in the world, where inclusion did not happen the way we might have wanted. There will be mix-ups, misses and unanticipated situations.

The question is not how to avoid those, because I believe that our tradition teaches us the folly of expecting perfection. The question is, where do we go from here.

I’ve been in a lot of meetings where organizers are reflecting on past events, and been privy to a lot of anguished sharing sessions where participants with disabilities painfully recount things that went wrong. Too often, the one side is busy defending the adequacy of intention, while the other side has determined that they have suffered at the hands of an organization incompetent at best and indifferent at worst. Battle lines are drawn. Hurts rage.

What if we did something a little different? In preparation for Yom Kippur, Jews practice Mechilah, Mechilah encompasses parallel Jewish obligation. First, a person to understand where they have hurt their fellow, and make amends the best of their ability. What is sometimes less understood is that should this process be undertaken faithfully, the person who was hurt essentially obligated to offer forgiveness. What if we practiced a little post-High Holiday Mechilah?

What if those of us in charge of organizing events were to say, “we want to hear where things did not go right.” What if we were to then first acknowledge the painful nature of the experience for the participant that experienced it, and then have an earnest discussion about how it could be improved in the future.

What if those of us that felt excluded were to candidly share our hurt, assuming that we have a receptive audience who will show contrition. What if we were to then do the really hard work of letting go of the pain and hurt, and offering forgiveness while we work together on a solution?

Judaism does not teach us to turn the other cheek, that sort of blanket forgiveness belongs to other faiths. Judaism teaches us that we have an obligation to forgive an individual that comes to us in true contrition, trying to act better.

If both parties practice this Mechilah, then we have a blueprint to move forward. We’ve identified problems and solutions, and while Rosh Hashanah 5781 will no doubt still have its problems, they will be different and hopefully fewer than 5780, and each Shabbat and each event this year will benefit from the process.

In tradition, Mechilah is about removing negative entries on the accounting of our souls What if, in this inclusion Mechilah, what we are doing is taking potential negative entries on the ledger of our collective and shared experience in synagogue life, and building instead credits to the ledger to make us more inclusive? Then we might truly be sealed for a better year in the year to come, whether we believe that that is a spiritual phenomenon or not.

In closing, I hope that everyone that reads this had a wonderful Rosh Hashanah and will have a meaningful and reflective Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur PSA: Jewish tradition actually forbids us from fasting if we are medically required to eat, and it is incumbent upon our communities to make sure that people who are not fasting for medical reasons feel supported and embraced in their eating.

Brooklyn Synagogue Vandalized During Rosh Hashanah

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

A synagogue in Brooklyn, N.Y. was vandalized during Rosh Hashanah services on Sept. 30, Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports. Police are currently searching for two young females as suspects.

Video from Williamsburg News shows two youths throwing milk crates into the windows of the Rivnitz shul. At least one other can be seen appearing to be a lookout.

News 12 Brooklyn reporter Katie Lusso shared a photo of one of the synagogue’s broken windows from the incident:

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called the vandalism “a shocking act of violence” in an Oct. 2 tweet and vowed to bring those behind it to justice.

Officers are protecting religious institutions during High Holy Days, and we’ll keep our Jewish community safe,” de Blasio tweeted.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced in an Oct. 2 press release that the New York State Police Hate Crimes Task Force will be assisting the New York Police Department in investigating the matter.

“I am disgusted and enraged by yet another anti-Semitic act of vandalism, the desecration of a synagogue in Williamsburg over Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days in the Jewish calendar,” Cuomo said. “It is simply unconscionable.”

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) New York and New Jersey Regional Director Evan Bernstein said in a statement that the ADL is “deeply disturbed” over the vandalism.

“At a time when the Brooklyn Jewish community is already on edge in the wake of a series of anti-Semitic incidents, it is extremely upsetting to see this congregation targeted during what is otherwise supposed to be a joyous celebration of the Jewish New Year,” Bernstein said. “We all have an important role to play in sending a clear message that these kinds of incidents will not be tolerated in our city.”

Another Williamsburg News video shows an unidentified perpetrator pulling down a Jewish woman’s headscarf and wig on the evening of Sept. 30.

Former New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a Democrat, tweeted, “We cannot allow this to continue! The Jewish community is being terrorized! Enough!!!”

Yizkor: When Memory Turns Into Love

I have a dear friend, Rabbi Elie Spitz. Years ago, he had a family simcha to attend, which led to him being in New York a day before the terrible attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

In the face of the assault, he was determined to help. So he walked to where the World Trade Center had been and offered to counsel anybody who needed to talk. 

Spitz said that what was really remarkable about being there was the diversity; people of every race, every faith, every orientation and origin, pouring into southern Manhattan to help.

He spoke with a Puerto Rican who spent several hours carrying heavy rocks away from ground zero alongside New Yorkers who were every possible mix.

Spitz asked him, “What are you going to take away from tonight?” And the volunteer answered: “What is special, at this moment, is that no label matters. We are all just people trying to help; people who otherwise wouldn’t have cooperated are now working together for the common good.”

My friend Rabbi Spitz said to him, “What would make that lesson last?” And the answer was: “Memory.”

Memory is what distinguishes a human being from all other creatures, our ability to share each other’s memories, and our ability to transmit those memories to people who haven’t personally experienced them. Author Philip Roth wrote in “Patrimony”: “To be alive is to be made of memory. If a person is not made of memory, then they’re made of nothing at all.” We are, in fact, the sum of our memories. We are in the process of becoming the memories of people yet to come. 

I have the privilege of speaking to many Jewish communities. 

A few years ago, I was invited to give an inaugural lecture in a synagogue located at 1625 Ocean Ave., in Brooklyn. That is the location of the East Midwood Jewish Center, which in its heyday was one of the largest and most vibrant centers of Jewish life in America. The rabbi was Rabbi Harry Halpern, who was small in stature but in spirit, he was enormous.

Halpern’s energy was infectious. I know this because he was my father’s childhood rabbi. My father told me many wonderful stories about the East Midwood Jewish Center. So, you can imagine my thrill to receive an invitation from that congregation to speak as a scholar-in-residence. They thought I was going in order to deliver a talk, whereas I knew I was going on a pilgrimage to visit an ancestral holy site.

Sitting in the sanctuary before my talk, I sat where I always do in shul: toward the front, on the right. And a man approached me and said, You probably don’t know this, but your grandfather always used to sit in this very seat.” 

At that moment, I felt his presence so powerfully. I felt the presence of my grandmother, my father, my aunt — who are, thank God, very much alive — and I felt the presence of countless relatives whose names and stories I had heard but many of whom I’d never met. My father had shared stories of Brooklyn Rosh Hashanahs and Yom Kippurs years ago, carrying a tallit bags and the prayer books of deceased great-grandparents to bring to the synagogue as a way of communing with people who were no longer alive. 

As we will gather for the Yizkor prayer for remembering the deceased, we need to know and we need to own that we are indeed embraced by a tidal wave of love that cascades from the past and through us into the future.

I walked to the back of the room, where I found the plaques for not only my grandparents, but for their parents and their siblings. And I thought about how all of us are on the way to becoming a plaque. We start our lives as our parents’ dreams and, in the end, we become the dreams of our children and our grandchildren. 

My father moved to San Francisco, where he met my mother and where I was raised, and I grew up there in a congregation very similar to this one: ornate, beautiful, with a magnificent tradition of cantorial music. My grandparents moved West as well, and they started to attend this synagogue, which they attended regularly, and they had their fixed seats in the congregation. When my grandfather died, my grandmother retained his seat. And I thought about what it means to keep a seat when there’s no one sitting in it. At her funeral, the rabbi mentioned that she had always chosen to sit alone in the sanctuary. I didn’t know then but I know now that she wasn’t alone. That in fact, we come to the synagogue because we know that here, even if we’re sitting by ourselves, we are never alone. When my grandmother sat in that great, big sanctuary with nobody next to her, she was in fact, sitting with her husband. And she was sitting with her parents. 

When we gather in our sanctuaries, all of us are sitting not only with the people who are alive who we love, but we are sitting with those who are alive in our hearts. Particularly in this sacred season as we will gather for the Yizkor prayer for remembering the deceased, we need to know and we need to own that we are indeed embraced by a tidal wave of love that cascades from the past and through us into the future. That we will be sitting with the spirit of someone who is not physically present, and that they in turn sat in the synagogue holding the spirit of people who had gone before them, and so on, all the way back to the very beginning of time. Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote, “When a person who is close to you dies, in the first few weeks after that person’s death, they are as far from you as can be. Well, as far as someone near can ever be. Only with the passing of years does that person become nearer and nearer until you can almost live with that person.” 

If you’ve ever been to a fun house, you’ve seen its halls of mirrors, in which the reflection of one mirror is immediately reflected onto another mirror and back to the first, creating the illusion of a hall of infinite mirrors. We sit in a hall of memories, and the memories of our loved ones contain within themselves the memories of loved ones who themselves contain more memories. And these memories fly all the way back and all the way forward, illumined by the light of your soul. You are the candle in this hall of memories. 

As we remember those who are no longer with us in body but who live with us in the intimacy of a spirit that knows neither past nor future, and that ignores distance, remember that they will be with you. Feel their love surround you and embrace you and pick you up and know that they, too, were wafted by the wings of a love that had come before them. And know that the love that you carry, you carry into the future and that it will embrace your children’s children until the end of time. 

Israeli poet Abba Kovner wrote, “They alone are left me/They alone still faithful/For now, death can do no more to them/At the bend of the road/at the close of the day/they gather around me silently/and walk by my side/This is a bond nothing can ever loosen/What I have lost I possess forever.” 

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is the Abner and Roslyn Goldstine Dean’s Chair and professor of philosophy at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and is vice president of American Jewish University. 

Thoughts on the Days of Awe – Live the Light, Be Strong

Thoughts on the Days of Awe

Live the Light, and Be Strong

Nixon was a Capricorn. And so was Jesus.

I vaguely remember the day, I must have been around nine or so, when I found out I was a Capricorn. Someone in my family was reading the Astrology section in the newspaper, and I was curious. In the ensuing conversation I found out what I was. Of course, I read up on myself every day for a while. Then I read up on other people in the Astrology section. Hmm. Some days, apparently, I was someone else. Then I read an article about famous Capricorns, Richard Nixon being one of them. In my home, that was slightly worse than Satan being a Capricorn. “Not good,” I thought. Then I heard that Jesus was a Capricorn.

I became skeptical about the determinative power of morally indifferent constellations in the sky when I was born. By the time I was in high school, when people asked me what my sign was, I would say something like “Falling Rocks Ahead.”

I did not realize that my juvenile skepticism about this deeply held belief of others matched a struggle in Jewish thought. On one hand there is great animosity against fatalism in general and Astrology in particular in Jewish thought. Commenting on Genesis 15:5, where God “takes Abraham outside”, the Midrash says (Genesis Rabbah 44:12) that God took Abraham out of the world, above the stars, and had him look down, to see the starts from above. God says to Abraham: “You are a prophet, not an astrologer.” In essence, the Midrash there teaches that the constellations don’t rule the lives of the people of Israel. Maimonides, our greatest jurist, philosopher and mystic, reviled Astrology. On the other hand, there are many, many sources that teach about great scholars and mystics who were Astrologers. Honestly, I don’t get it.

As some of you might remember, I was a committed Existentialist by the time I was in 9th grade (too much Camus and Sartre, way too young). I was familiar with the idea of “bad faith”, disowning our freedom. According to Existentialism, we human beings take on faith systems that tell us that everything is ordained, everything is planned, foretold, God’s will, whatever, because the idea that that we are free, and therefore accountable, is too much to behold. We would rather consult the stars or blame something else for why we are the way we are, than face our terrible freedom.

Why are you as you are? Not the stars. Some mixture of four things: your genes (your personality), your childhood before language, everything that has happened since (from the family on out), and your history of decisions, conscious and unconscious. And especially this decision: what you decide you will become, starting tomorrow (I say this so can sleep on it). You won’t change by tomorrow. But you can start.

You become free when you take ownership of your decisions, when, as much as possible, you bring to light the world of unconscious habits, unconscious decisions, and own them. You are who you are because of the patterns within, not the patterns in the night time sky.

Deliberate, reflect, evaluate, and decide. Is some decision good for righteousness and inner well-being – yes or no? Confused? Decide to figure it out. The process of regaining freedom is slow and it is painful, but it is the path to authenticity.

Does God or fate play a role in any of this? Maybe, but only clearly in the rear-view mirror. People tell me that something was fated, or God’s will. “How do you know?” I ask. “Because it happened”, I am solemnly informed. “So, everything that happens is God’s will?” I ask. You can imagine how and where the conversation goes from there. Evil is the least of it.

Freedom is the most of it. Yes, sometimes, I do detect the light of God shining on a path before me, but I have to decide to take that path. And I might be wrong.

We would not have Days of Awe committed to Teshuvah, the path out of regret and remorse toward repair and righteousness, if we human beings always took the lighted path before us, or if everything were pre-ordained.

The High Holy Days, our Days of Awe, are rooted in the idea of radical freedom. On one hand, we are taught that there is a Book of Life in which our fate is inscribed, but then we are taught that “Teshuvah, Tefilah and Tzedakah” can alter the severe decree. There are many things outside of our control, but what remains, for most us, determines our quality of life. Your life is fated until you do something about it.

The Midrash teaches that we live above the stars. The light that shines into us is directly from the Divine. Live that light – be strong – and use these days to recover our freedom, into lives of righteousness and well-being.

Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tova!

Rabbi Mordecai Finley

Apple Rose Cake for Rosh Hashanah

Photo courtesy of Marion Haberman

There’s nothing like a new recipe to excite me for the holidays. To usher in a sweet New Year I wanted to share this one for a gorgeous, simple and delicious apple rose cake. When it comes to entertaining I like to find dishes that are delightful to look at and to eat. 

I chose to create my personal spin on this recipe because trying out new techniques, like the apple roses on this cake, is something special that helps me to take time for myself before the holidays. When my little boys are napping I got to take a break from writing and just experiment and learn something new. Amidst flying flour flurries and apple scraps I found my mind wandering to Rosh Hashanah celebrations gone by and to what I hope and pray for the year ahead. I wish you all a Shanah Tovah u’Metukah, a very sweet New Year!

Apple Cake: This recipe is Kosher and can be made Pareve or Dairy


8 ounces unsalted butter or margarine
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup milk or water
3 cups flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice mix
1 tablespoon orange or lemon juice

Cream together the margarine and sugar then add the eggs. In a separate bowl sift together the flour and baking powder. Add in the flour mixture one cup at a time alternating with water until all is well incorporated. Finally, add the vanilla and spices. Pour cake batter into a well-greased springform pan or pie dish. Leave room towards the top as the cake will rise.

Core the apple then slice in a thin spiral. Place the apple into boiling water and add in orange juice. Boil for 2 minutes then remove from the water. 

Twist each apple piece and arrange at the top of the cake. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-35 minutes, testing with a toothpick to see if it is baked through.


Cake – adapted from Myrna Rosen Quick and Delicious. Rose design – adapted from At the Immigrants Table

Marion Haberman is a writer and content creator for her YouTube/MyJewishMommyLife channel and Instagram @MyJewishMommyLife page where she shares her experience living a meaning-FULL Jewish family life. Haberman is currently writing a book on Judaism and pregnancy titled ‘Expecting Jewish!’ to be released Winter 2019. She is also a professional social media consultant and web and television writer for Discovery Channel, NOAA and NatGeoand has an MBA from Georgetown University.

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Rosh Hashanah with Rabbi Micha Odenheimer

Micha Odenheimer is the founder and director of Tevel B’tzedek. Micha was born in Berkley, California. He received his B.A. from Yale University, and was a student and close friend of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. In 1988 Micha immigrated to Israel and ever since has been working in social activism in Israeli society, and has lectured and written extensively on Judaism and social justice. A prolific journalist, Micha has reported on poverty, globalization and human rights from around the world including Somalia, Ethiopia, Iraq, Burma, Haiti, Nepal, Bangladesh and Indonesia. Micha also founded the Israeli Association for Ethiopian Jewry, which was, and remains to this day, one of the most instrumental and valued organizations dealing with the absorption of Ethiopian immigration to Israel. 

Our conversation focuses on Hasidic and Kabalistic interpretations of Rosh Hashanah, and the universalistic message of the holiday.



Previous Talks on Rosh Hashanah

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

Rabbi Michael Schudrich

Rabbi Steven Wernick


Shmuel’s book, #IsraeliJudaism, Portrait of a Cultural Revolution, is now available in English. The Jewish Review of Books called it “important, accessible new study”. Haaretz called it “impressively broad survey”. Order it here: amzn.to/2lDntvh

Make DIY Pine Cone Apple Place Card Holders

When I’m walking my dogs in the neighborhood and I come upon a pine cone on the sidewalk, I can’t help picking it up. Pine cones are considered gold in crafting currency. There are so many projects you can make with them. And here’s a fun example just in time for fall — turn them into little apples that can hold place cards. What a whimsical idea for your table on Rosh Hashanah, or save them for Sukkot in a few weeks.

What you’ll need:
Pine cones
Red acrylic paint
Paint brush
Green felt


1. Gather your pine cones. If you don’t have any in your yard or neighborhood, you can buy them at the crafts store. The pine cones I used were on the small side, about two inches around. The smaller they are, the easier they are to paint.

2. Apply red acrylic paint on the pine cones with a paintbrush. Try to get in between the scales so that the whole pine cone is covered, except for the small scale at the very top. I like to keep that one unpainted so it looks like an apple stem.


3. Cut a leaf shape out of green felt, and glue it to one of the scales at the top of the pine cone. You can also use green construction paper if you have some of that handy.


4. Cut small strips of cardstock and write names of guests on them. The size of the strips will depend on the size of your pine cones. My place cards were about 1 /2 inch by 2 inches. Then slide the place cards between the pine cone scales.

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects online.

For Kids: A Few Good Books for a Good Year

New books for fall include a number of picture books about the holidays, but also other Jewish-themed books for kids that should get some attention even though they revolve around topics other than Jewish holidays. Of special note is R.J. Palacio’s graphic novel debut, “White Bird,” which likely will appear on many “best” lists by the end of the year.

“Jackie and Jesse and Joni and Jae: A Rosh Hashanah Story”
By Chris Barash. Illustrated by Christine Battuz. Apples & Honey Press, 2019.
Ages 4-6.

This cute rhyming story is useful as a simple explanation for very young children of the tashlich ritual. Four children, along with their rabbi and others in the community, take a holiday walk to the nearby river on a fine autumn day. The four friends consider the times in the year they may have acted “unfriendly” to one another and offer apologies. They toss bread into the river, considering it as “mistakes that we’ll throw” and watch the symbolic crumbs float away. Each “mistake” represents a missed goal of attaining positive character traits important to relay to children, such as friendship, honesty and compassion. Autumn colors and childlike illustrations featuring small animal cameos will appeal to a preschool audience.
Available on Amazon.

“Once Upon an Apple Cake: A Rosh Hashanah Story”
By Elana Rubinstein, illustrations by Jennifer Naalchigar. Apples & Honey Press, 2019.
Ages 7-10.

Ten-year-old Saralee Siegel has an amazing sense of smell. She says she can smell things “like nobody’s business.” She can discern any recipe’s ingredients with a sniff or two, as well as know what shampoo someone used last night. She is part of a hilarious, quirky family who owns a popular restaurant. Saralee’s kin include Aunt Bean, a germaphobe who cleans the glass dessert case with a toothbrush; a 5-year-old cousin who thinks he’s a doctor; her bubbe, who can’t remember names so she calls everyone “Pookie-Wookie”; and youthful Aunt Lotte, who often is on the phone and just can’t be bothered.

Siegel House restaurant is known for its awesome Rosh Hashanah apple cakes, baked by Saralee’s zayde, using a special secret ingredient even her super-nose can’t detect. But three days before the holiday, he falls down the basement stairs and gets a bump on the head that causes temporary amnesia. It is left to Saralee to fulfill all the town’s apple cake orders, but that super-nose of hers just can’t sniff out the secret ingredient. When some sinister newcomers try to sneak into her zayde’s files to bake apple cakes for their rival bakery called Perfection on a Platter, it is left to Saralee to use her wits (along with her sniffer) to save Rosh Hashanah. 

Along the way, she learns much about friendship, patience, persistence and love. This funny and well-plotted story with delightful characters and amusing line-drawn illustrations is a perfect holiday tale for early chapter book readers.
Available on Amazon.

“And There Was Evening and There Was Morning”
By Harriet Cohen Helfand and Ellen Kahan Zager. Illustrated by Ellen Kahan Zager. Kar-Ben, 2018.

Each new year recalls the story of the seven days of creation, and there are numerous books for children on this topic. However, this uniquely illustrated take on Genesis features such clever design elements that it is a pleasure to contemplate the pages and imagine the creative process of the talented illustrator. Taking cues from the Torah text by focusing on how each day feels different (“a peaceful day” or “a fruitful day”), the days of creation are described in rhyming couplets, with illustrations of Hebrew letters beautifully integrated within the design, often creating words of their own. For example, when God creates animals, the letters for “avaz” (goose) and “dionun” (squid) showcase Hebrew letter “vav” as the goose’s neck, along with other long, graceful “vavs” and “nuns” as portions of the squid’s flowing tentacles. 

Zager does this for about 50 Hebrew words, and it is an extraordinary feat. The artist’s note at the end of the book states: “The pictures in this book are also created with words. Because Hebrew is the language of the Torah, these images are in Hebrew. Each image is created with the Hebrew letters for that word.” Flipping back and forth from the pages to the glossary in the back (which contains the Hebrew and transliteration alongside a small image of the featured plant or animal) will delight both children and adults who know their Hebrew letters and love a bit of a puzzle. The chance to learn some new vocabulary is a plus, in addition to spurring ideas of creating an animal of your own by playing with colorful letters on paper.
Available on Amazon.

“Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story”
By Leslea Newman. Illustrated by Amy June Bates. Abrams, 2018.

As some vocal Americans currently may grapple with Emma Lazarus’ words on the base of the Statue of Liberty, this beautifully written and illustrated children’s book helps young readers to understand the perils of immigration to an unfamiliar new country. The story follows 9-year-old Gittel, who attempts to immigrate to America with her mother in the early part of the 20th century but has to go it alone after her mother is denied boarding because of an eye infection.

The author states the narrative is based on two true stories from her childhood: one from a family friend and one from her grandmother. In the author notes, Newman shares a photo of the brass candlesticks she inherited from her grandmother that also appear within the story as the one family heirloom Gittel brings with her on her solitary journey. Gittel’s mother also gives her a piece of paper with the name and address of her New York cousin and tells Gittel to keep it safe. Gittel does as she is asked, but the constant handling of the paper over the two-week voyage rends it illegible by the time she arrives at Ellis Island. A clever Yiddish-language interpreter gets her photo in the newspaper; her relative sees it and comes to greet Gittel the following day. This part of the tale also is an element of a true story the author heard while growing up. 

Newman ends her notes by stating, “To this day, thousands of people, including many children traveling alone, immigrate to America each year in search of a better life and a safe place to call home.”
Available on Amazon.



“Walk Till You Disappear”
By Jacqueline Dembar Greene. Kar-Ben, 2019.
Ages 9-14.

Middle-grade readers who love a good adventure will be turning pages eagerly in this new novel blending historical fiction with a survival story. Jewish kids who liked Elizabeth Speare’s popular “The Sign of the Beaver” will discover a bit of their own heritage while delving into the very modern issues of diversity and acceptance of differences. Miguel Abrano and his family are ranchers in Arizona territory near Tucson in 1872. He is a devoted Catholic, considering a career in the priesthood, and impatiently awaiting his 13th birthday so he can be allowed more adult privileges. After an “Israelite” peddler visits his home (at a Friday night dinner when his mother bakes her usual challah and lights candles at a festive meal), he discovers to his dismay that he is a descended from Converso Jews who fled the Inquisition.This revelation sets in motion a panicked flight from his home into the unforgiving desert on a borrowed horse. He promptly loses his way and is captured by a band of Apaches, who do not treat him well. When hope is almost lost, he is rescued by a friendly member of the Tohono O’odham tribe who is running away from an American mission school. A lot of danger, adventure and eye-opening scenes are included. Scorpion bites, rattlesnake and horsemeat consumption, American Indian survival tips and a literal “cliff-hanger” keep the narrative moving at a fast pace.There are more than a few (age-appropriate) descriptions of cruelty, both from American troops toward the Tohono O’odham boy and from the tribal men toward their white captive. The author has created a realistic youth in transition. His wilderness experience sets him on a path to question his stringent beliefs that the “truth” can only been seen through the eyes of the church. As he learns that kindness toward others with varying beliefs is more important than forced adherence to both intolerant church and unfair government policies, he reconciles his past heritage with the type of man he wants to become.
Available on Amazon.


“White Bird.”
Written and illustrated by R.J. Palacio.
Knopf, 2019.
Ages 8-12.

The first graphic novel by the author of “Wonder” is a dramatic story of a young French girl hidden from the Nazis by brave gentile neighbors. It serves as a bit of backstory to the character of Julian, the antagonist who had bullied Auggie, the main character from “Wonder” with a genetic condition that affects his appearance. Portions of this particular story previously were in a chapter of “Auggie and Me: Three Wonder Stories,” but this graphic-novel format expands it and makes for a particularly affecting novel that should touch the hearts of readers of all ages.

Julian has reformed and transferred to a new school. He has an essay to write for a class, so he calls his French grandmother on Facetime to interview her about her childhood during World War II. He opens with a quick comment about his regret for his past behavior and she replies, “We are not defined by our mistakes, but by what we do after we’ve learned from them.” Thus commences Grandmere’s story, beginning in France as the Nazis restrict Jewish movement and start rounding up children from their schools. Grandmere, whose name is Sara Blum, recounts her teenage escape with the help of a classmate named Julien, whose family takes her in, brings her food daily, and does much to keep up her spirits when her parents are deported. She lives in the hayloft of their barn for the duration of the war and eventually feels more than just friendship toward her kind classmate.

Those familiar with Palacio’s work will appreciate the twist that distinguishes this tale from other middle-grade Holocaust fiction: Julien is disabled from polio and has suffered intense bullying since he contracted the disease and began using crutches to walk. Although Sara sat next to him in school for three years, she had never acknowledged him or objected to her friends’ verbal disdain for him. While in hiding and under his family’s dedicated care, she reflects on her previous behavior and realizes, “Evil will only be stopped when good people decide to put an end to it.”

The story itself is exciting, with a couple of surprising turns and some fantasy elements connecting her life to that of a free white bird. These elements provide some of the most affecting scenes. It is written at a perfect level for readers in grades 4 and up who are into graphic novels and ready to learn about the Holocaust in an accessible way. Although not based on any one survivor’s story, this novel would be an excellent companion to any of the other books young people first read on the subject, including “Number the Stars” or particularly Anne Frank’s diary, to which it draws a number of parallels.

The final scenes when Sara finishes telling her story to her grandson (and we now realize why he is named Julian) move easily from 20th-century injustice to contemporary 21st-century events, as the author encourages her readers to stand up to prejudice when they see it. A well-researched glossary and excellent list for further reading are included. This is a grand achievement by the author in both story and graphic-art illustration.
Available on Amazon.

Lisa Silverman is the director of the Burton Sperber Jewish Community Library located at American Jewish University.

Shofar-Blowing Class Provides Lung Workout in Time for the High Holy Days

Yoni Workman (left) and Marcelo Kuperwasser at the shofar workshop.

While every Jew is commanded to hear the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, thankfully we’re not all required to learn how to blow one. But for those wanting to give their lungs the ultimate workout, Hollywood Temple Beth El held a shofar workshop on Sept. 15, led by Rabbi Norbert Weinberg. A few hardy souls showed up to learn how to wail like Joshua bringing down the walls of Jericho or, in this reporter’s case, blow oneself red in the face while bringing forth a sound resembling a dying moose.

Weinberg told the Journal that this was the second time he’s held the workshop. As part of the synagogue’s Rosh Hashanah services, he likes to invite any member of the congregation to come up to the bimah and become familiar with the instrument. 

Unlike the trumpet or other horns, you don’t have to worry about hitting the right note. The ram’s horn’s unpredictable sound is a feature, not a bug. Maimonides called the sound of the shofar “penetrating” and its harsh, atonal sound is meant to unsettle. 

“The Rambam says this unsettling forces us to think about our actions for the year,” Weinberg said. It’s also why shofars are never equipped with a mouthpiece. “If you use a mouthpiece, it’s predictable,” Weinberg explained. “This is a wild animal and playing it is like taming a wild animal, so you need an untamed beast. You’re going to take it as it comes: natural. That’s a very important part.”

Shofars available at the workshop. Photos by Steven Mirkin

Weinberg demonstrated the three types of sounds heard on Rosh Hashanah, starting with the malchuyot, one long blast, representing the enthronement of God — the coronation. “That would be the original intention,” Weinberg said, “because you blow the shofar at the coronation of a king; God is King of the Universe.” Then there is the zichronot, three short blasts that represent remembrance. “This is very practical,” Weinberg said. “God remembered us in the past, maybe we’ll get a lucky break and escape the pogrom this year, too.” Finally, the shofarot, “the sound that comes at the end of history, when all existence is redeemed.” Taken together, he said, “you have the present, past and the future, and all of that is in the shofar.”

“This is a wild animal and playing it is like taming a wild animal.” — Rabbi Norbert Weinberg

When it came time to finally pick up their horns and blow, one player stood out. Yoni Workman arrived with his own very impressive shofar, and he sounded so adept, it was possible to believe he was a ringer. 

However, he told the Journal he bought the shofar only a few days earlier at a Judaica store on Fairfax Avenue, and he was able to produce that familiar keening wail from the get-go. He started to play as he walked down Fairfax to his car. “People were coming up to me saying how cool it sounded,” he said. 

Weinberg allayed the other would-be shofar blowers’ fears by stating, “The Baal Shem Tov wanted to find a person to blow the shofar for him at Rosh Hashanah. So he interviewed three candidates. He asked the first [candidate] what was on his mind when he played. He said, ‘I’m thinking of the Torah, the kabbalah, etc.’ The second one said he was thinking of all the great ones who came before him. The third candidate said, ‘I’ve got a wife, I’ve got 10 kids, there’s no money to feed them. If I get this position, maybe you’ll give me a few dollars to blow the shofar.’ The Baal Shem Tov said, ‘You are the one I choose, because you mean it.’”

Susan Karlin Carries on the Family Shofar Blowing Tradition

Susan Karlin; Photo by Gerri Miller

There are three shofars on display in Susan Karlin’s West Hollywood apartment, but to her, they’re not just Judaica. “When I look at them, it makes me smile and think of my parents and my lineage, and making people happy at synagogue,” she said. 

A fourth-generation shofar blower, she provides the teruah, tekiah and shevarim blasts every year at the Laugh Factory comedy club’s High Holy Days services.

“It’s a very majestic, powerful and spiritual sound. It can be chilling or very emotional,” Karlin said. “There’s something awe-inspiring about everyone gathering together and listening to that sound together. There’s an element of power and spirituality associated with it. It’s a profound ritual. That’s what draws me to it.”

Growing up in New Jersey, Karlin loved watching her father blow the shofar at their synagogue. “One Rosh Hashanah, we came home from services and I asked him to show me how,” she said. She learned on the smallest of her shofar trio, which her grandfather brought from Poland to the United States in the 1920s. 

“I had to keep practicing and practicing. It took a while to actually get a sound out of it. Then my dad taught me how to manipulate my tongue to get the notes. He taught me to blow it on the side of my mouth, not straight on. You purse your lips and you want to wet them and create a little airway so they vibrate a little bit,” she said. ‘You have to hit it in exactly the right spot.

“It also takes a lot of core work,” Karlin noted. “If you don’t take the breaths properly, you get really dizzy. I’ve learned over the years to slow down. My dad did it rapid-fire and I’d copy his pace but I found I couldn’t do it. It gives me a new respect for trumpet players.”

On a trip to Israel in the late 1970s, Karlin was with her father when he bought two shofars in Hebron, one 29 inches long and the other 12 inches. Each of the trio has a different sound. Her grandfather’s 10-inch shofar is “a bit shrill, and harder to blow because of its narrower opening. The large one has a deeper tone. The middle one is easiest for me,” she said. “It’s the one I play the most.”

“It’s very profound to be carrying on a family tradition like 

this. I like that I pushed this family tradition into the 21st century and broke some barriers. It started as a badge of honor, carrying it on. Now I derive more meaning from it. It makes me feel more connected to the ritual of gathering together as a community and taking stock of our lives.” 

— Susan Karlin

Karlin didn’t learn to blow the shofar with any intention of doing it publicly, but after she attended services at the Laugh Factory, she approached Rabbi Bob Jacobs and volunteered. She auditioned and was hired on the spot. She was aware that at that time, in the 1990s, there were no female shofar blowers. “Now it’s much more common. I’ve seen female rabbis, kids, fathers and daughters do it,” she said. She hopes to bequeath her shofars and teach the skill to her teenage niece.

“It’s very profound to be carrying on a family tradition like this,” she said. “I like that I pushed this family tradition into the 21st century and broke some barriers. It started as a badge of honor, carrying it on. Now I derive more meaning from it. It makes me feel more connected to the ritual of gathering together as a community and taking stock of our lives.”

A University of Pennsylvania graduate, Karlin is a journalist who writes “about the nexus of science, technology and the arts,” and whose work has taken her to every continent. She recently became recertified in SCUBA diving for an assignment and will go to Lake Como in Italy for a comic-art show this spring. She’s developing ideas for books, graphic novels and oral storytelling. “My goal is to continue to learn and try new things and to have as many adventures as I can,” she said. “I’ve always been more interested in experiences than things.” She attends the Burning Man festival every year and has turned her pet snails into Facebook stars.

Of Polish and Russian heritage, Karlin was raised in a Conservative, kosher home. Her father was Orthodox and her mother was Reform and, she said, the two “met in the middle.” She “still has PTSD from learning my haftarah at my bat mitzvah,” she joked. Pork and shellfish are still off the menu, and she defines her humor as “very Jewish. I see everything through that prism,” she said. Diagnosed with hypoglycemia several years ago, she no longer fasts on Yom Kippur. “I eat, but less than I normally would.”

Since returning from Burning Man in early September, Karlin has been practicing her shofar-blowing every day. She also is teaching herself to play the banjo, an instrument she received as a gift at the festival. “My neighbors are going to hate me,” she said. 

For Karlin, the High Holy Days are more than an occasion to pray and ask forgiveness, “even though that’s part of it. It’s more about taking stock of who I am, who I’ve become, how I’ve changed in the last year as a person, how I want to better myself, and whether I’m happy with the direction I’m going in on a spiritual level. It’s also taking stock of how I’ve wronged other people, wanting to ask their forgiveness and forgiving myself for how I’ve handled things in the past,” she said. 

“At the Laugh Factory, I feel a greater connection to the community and spirituality and my growth as a human being.”

Rosh Hashanah services will be held at 11 a.m. Sept. 30, continuing with Kol Nidre at 5 p.m. Oct. 8, and Yom Kippur at 11 a.m. Oct. 9 at the Laugh Factory, 8001 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 656-1336. Admission is free.

Table for Five: Rosh Hashanah 5780

One verse, five voices. Edited by Salvador Litvak, Accidental Talmudist

And Hannah answered and said, “No, my lord, I am a woman of sorrowful spirit, and neither new wine nor old wine have I drunk, and I poured out my soul before the Lord.” –From the Rosh Hashanah haftarah, 1 Samuel 1:15

Shaindy Jacobson
Director, Rosh Chodesh Society (Jewish Learning Institute)

One of my early childhood memories is sitting next to my mother in the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, rifling through the pages of my prayer book. Having recently learned to read Hebrew, sounding out each word was a thrilling, yet thoroughly time-consuming, activity. I recall whispering into her ear, “Mom, how can anyone say this many prayers?” 

Now, as I think about sitting in synagogue with my little girl, and her little girl, I am reminded that this haftarah, “Hannah’s Prayer,” is a foundational biblical source for the institution of prayer. Indeed, the dialogue between Eli and Hannah touches on the essence of prayer in general, and on the Rosh Hashanah prayers in particular. 

Eli’s accusation of Hannah’s “drunkenness” can be perceived as an admonishment of what seemed to be an excessive indulgence in the desires of the material self. “Is this the time, and is this holy tabernacle the place, to pray so passionately for personal gain?” 

“No, you misunderstand my intention,” replied Hannah. “I have poured out my soul before the Lord. I am not merely asking for a son; I am asking for a son so that I might dedicate him to God all the days of his life.” 

Like Hannah, when we “pour out our souls before the Lord,” our prayers stem directly from our pure essence — our Godly souls. And then, on this awe-inspiring day, our “personal” needs and our desire to serve God become one and the same. 

This Rosh Hashanah, may we pray — and be answered — like Hannah, the Mother of Intention.

Rabbi Benjamin Blech
Professor of Talmud, Yeshiva University

Poor Hannah. Overcome with pain, she poured out her soul to God in prayer — only to be mistaken for someone intoxicated by wine, not by faith. To pray with true passion to an invisible higher power seems for many today to be dismissed as naïve and purposeless. That’s why I can so readily empathize with Hannah. 

Seven years ago, I was told by my physician that I had an incurable disease and had about six months to live. My prayers intensified to levels I never thought possible. I spoke to God as friend, as confidant, as the one to whom I entrusted the final decision of life or death with complete trust. I am alive to write these words today not simply because God answered my prayers but because my prayers proved life-changing for me. They achieved what prayer was meant to do and what is, in fact, the theme of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: to become a better person by reinforcing our awareness of God’s presence in every moment of our lives. 

What I have learned is that there is a reason why people have such a problem with prayer. It is simply because they misunderstand its basic premise. Prayer doesn’t come to change God. It comes to change us — so that God will look at us differently. It wants us to talk to God because God is inside every one of us and we need to communicate with our inner selves so that we can be inspired to become all that we can be.

Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz
Adat Shalom

Judaism is a tradition of words. We read words in the Torah. We pray words in the siddur (prayer book) and machzor (holiday prayer book). We study pages upon pages of words in the Talmud. In fact, the High Holy Days coincide with the fifth book of the Torah, which in Hebrew is named “Devarim,” meaning words. 

All during the month of Elul, we are encouraged to reflect on our actions throughout the year and apologize. We reconcile through words because not only do words matter, but the way in which we convey them matters a great deal. This is not the case when it comes to prayer, our conversation with God. 

Our verse reminds us on Rosh Hashanah that Hannah prays in her own way for her own concerns. And as unrecognizable as her style of prayer might be to the High Priest Eli, her prayers are accepted and answered by the Holy One. On other holy days like the Passover seder, we read words scripted from the Mishnah. On kabbalat Shabbat, we echo the words of the kabbalists. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur beckon us to rise above time and place and to meet the Divine, and other loved ones, in the great beyond in our own unique way. 

We must close our eyes to see. We move our mouths, yet no sound is emitted. We pray like Hannah. May God accept our prayers as the Holy One did hers. Shanah Tovah U’Metukah — May we all enjoy a good and sweet 5780!

Heftsibah Cohen-Montagu
Arevot Women’s Beit Midrash of the Sephardic Educational Center

What is going on in the dialogue between Eli and Hannah? Why does he think she is drunk? Does Eli the High Priest not recognize intense mindful prayer, a total and intimate connection with God, a state of ecstasy leaving its marks on the worshipper’s face? Eli, the keeper of order and regulations, is confused by Hannah’s spontaneous unrestrained prayer, and she responds assertively. 

The Spanish commentator Abarbanel turns her answer around: instead of “No, my lord, I am a woman of sorrowful spirit,” she says, “My lord, I am not a woman of sorrowful spirit.” In this interpretation, Hannah asserts the strength of prayer that comes not from sorrow and not from drunkenness but from the meeting place with the infinite and the unknown. Natural prayer, as she understands it, is pouring out her soul before God — using a Hebrew word which literally means “face to face.” 

The haftarah for the first day of Rosh Hashanah is often seen as a parallel to the prophecy of the birth of Isaac to Sarah, childless like Hannah. But we also can see Hannah’s prayer as an echo of the phrase repeated throughout the Musaf service: “Hayom Harat Olam” — today is the birthday of the world. On Rosh Hashanah, the day when the first man and woman were created, Hannah prays for liberation from infertility, face to face with God, boldly confronting insecurity and chaos, but in contact with a moment of becoming, the instant before a new creation.

Salvador Litvak
Writer-Director, AccidentalTalmudist.org

There is a time to pray and there is a time to pour out one’s heart before the Lord. Hannah already tried prayer, and her situation remained miserable: a beloved but childless wife whose fertile rival mocks and bullies her. So she enters the Holy Temple and pours out her heart before God. The High Priest Eli spots her and does his job, rebuking a pilgrim who seems to be violating the prohibition on entering the Temple while intoxicated. After learning that her supplications stem from a broken heart, however, he adds his own prayer that the Lord should grant her worthy request.

Ironically, this exchange leads our sages to teach not only that the Lord answers those who sincerely cry out to Him, but also that formal prayer should emulate Hannah’s in certain respects. Prior to this event, all prayer was recited aloud. From Hannah’s example, we learn that 1) the Amidah (the Standing Prayer) should be recited quietly; 2) the words nevertheless should be enunciated; and 3) the words should be spoken so quietly that they are not heard by others.

I cannot recommend enough that we learn from the spirit of Hannah’s prayer as much as its form. There needs to be a moment in every service we attend, or every prayer session we perform privately, in which we cry out from the depths. God hears those entreaties, and so do we. It can be both surprising and illuminating to hear what our needs truly are, when we let our hearts flow through our silent lips. 

Reminders for the New Year  

Dip the apples in the honey,
not the other way around.

Your napkin supply and fingers
will thank you.

Practice blowing the shofar ahead of time
but, please, do it in the other room.

We don’t want you to ruin the surprise.

Whatever melody they’re singing
at your shul is the only
correct melody.

You’re going to find out soon
if you were written in the Book of Life.

This book, unfortunately, is
not available on Kindle.

The shofar is made from a ram’s horn.

Animal rights activists who are
uncomfortable with this may consider
blowing directly into a live ram.

Results may vary.

Why stop with just a round challah
when you can mold any food into
a round shape? Consider a chicken ball
or a brisket globe. Vegetarians, you
can mold tofu into any shape.

We’ve got your back.

Unlike when we were in the desert,
synagogue buildings are not temporary
structures that exist only once a year.

Don’t be a stranger. We do this thing
every Friday. There’s food afterward.

Don’t forget to wear white on Yom Kippur.

We know it’s after Labor Day and this
goes against everything you ever
were taught on the subject, but you don’t want
to be the only one in the room receiving

Kol Nidre dressed in autumn browns.

Don’t be the only one in the room.

Be where there are others. Do that all the time.

You don’t get out of this world alive
so you might as well not go alone.

Rick Lupert, author of “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion,” is a freelance graphic designer, song leader, and poet who lives in Van Nuys with his wife, son, and far too many cats.

Contemplating the High Holy Days

The High Holy Days are an opportunity to reflect and contemplate. Now more than ever, we need to find a way to address conflict and division, both inner and outer. So the Journal reached out to more than two dozen rabbis from across the community and asked them what they think we need to hear over Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Shanah tovah.

Making Wise Choices

In Poland, I stood at a mass grave filled with the lives of 800 Jewish children. Tears poured down my face as I gathered my congregants and read the letter of a mother, making the choiceless choice of sending her toddler daughter on a transport out of the ghetto. The letter includes the mother’s hopes and dreams for her child; the whispered urgencies of a parent that leaves her child in the hands of a stranger, praying that fate will be kind. A letter saying goodbye. A letter sealed with love.

We never know how our choices will impact our future. On Yom Kippur, we must read the letters of our hearts. Think of the moments in which we have said, “But I didn’t have a choice.” And the many moments in which we can say, “I have a choice. And my child, this is what I do for you.” Dig deep within the crevices of your soul. If one day, you had to write a letter explaining the decisions of your life, what would it say? Would you be proud of the choices you have made or ashamed of the path you are walking? Will our children speak with pride or grimace, knowing we could have done better?
— Rabbi Nicole Guzik, Sinai Temple

Making Religion Relevant 

This year, I’ll be speaking to the fundamental question of whether religion has a real role in the 21st century and beyond. With declining rates of religious affiliation, there’s a real possibility that religion will become an increasingly marginal phenomenon. Yes, it certainly has played an important role in the development of our civilizations over the past thousands of years. But we cannot justify its future solely based on its past. What relevance does it have now? Rather than putting the burden and the guilt on people for leaving religion, I believe that our traditions must make a case for our adherence. It’s on religion to prove to us that it still matters to us as individuals and to our society.
— Rabbi Sarah Bassin, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills

A Call for Jewish Unity 

In his inaugural address as Haham Bashi — Sephardic Chief Rabbi — of Jaffa in 1911, Rabbi Benzion Meir Hai Uziel articulated a grand vision of unity for the Jewish people: “It is my tremendous desire to unify the divisions that the diaspora tore us into, the separate communities of Sephardim and Ashkenazim. These divisions amongst us are not natural. Our particular linguistic and communal divisions were created due to our dispersion throughout the diaspora.” 

Later in his life, Uziel said, “I do not relate to any distinctions or separations between Sephardim and Ashkenazim. It is not the countries of Spain (Sepharad) or Germany (Ashkenaz) that gave us great Torah scholars, rather the Torah itself.” 

Uziel’s aspirations for Jewish unity are rooted in both the Sephardi and Ashkenazi High Holiday liturgy, when we repeatedly say: “V’ya’asu kulam agudah ahat” (May we bind together in unity). Some speak of a post-denominational Judaism. Imagine a “post-ethnic” Judaism. Imagine a Jewish community that blends the best of all Jewish worlds: Torah, customs, recipes, tunes — creating something new, dynamic, exciting and different. Ashkenazi and Sephardi join as one. It’s happening all over Israel. It’s time we catch up.
— Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, Sephardic Educational Center and Westwood Village Synagogue

Recognizing What’s Important

The most unsettling words in the machzor are, “On Rosh Hashanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed: How many shall pass away, how many shall be born? Who shall live and who shall die?” 

Whether you take these words literally or metaphorically, take them seriously. These words serve as stark reminders of life’s finitude. They heighten our need to live with greater urgency. They are essential to the High Holy Days’ theme of self-examination. When taken seriously, they help us prioritize that which is genuinely important.

“But repentance, prayer and righteous deeds temper the severity of the judgment’s decree,” concludes these potentially transformative words.

Here the machzor gives us a recommendation for life. It acknowledges the inherent uncertainty of the coming year (Who shall live and who shall die?). And yet, through repentance, or resolving to improve one’s behavior; prayer, or striving to be more at one with God; and righteous deeds, or helping the world become more civilized, all of us individually and together can make a difference. 

A life spent in repentance, prayer and righteous deeds is a richer and better life. I pray that be true for those in my Stephen Wise Temple community —  indeed for the Jewish people for this year and beyond.
— Rabbi David Woznica, Stephen Wise Temple

Acknowledging Our Privilege 

We need to talk about racism on the holiest day of the year. If we don’t face our internal racism and our unconscious racist acts, then we won’t be able to heal the wounds of our world today.

Yom Kippur is about taking a hard look at ourselves and our part in the web of life.

I realize that it can feel uncomfortable for Jews who have a history of being marginalized and who have suffered the effects of white supremacists, who explicitly and often violently exclude Jews to come out and say we are racists. You might be thinking, “How can we be [racist]?” But the fact is we are mostly white and we walk through life with a great amount of white privilege. What are we doing to welcome Jews of color into our communities and synagogues? How can we lift up their narratives and expand our tent? How can we be an anti-racist — to use Ibram X. Kendi’s definition — a person who expresses the idea that racial groups are equals and no group needs improving or developing, and is supporting policy that reduces racial inequality?

Our world is hurting. We are in trouble.
— Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh, Temple Israel of Hollywood

Inspiring Acts of Decency 

I plan to discuss the importance of common decency in our discourse and in our actions. “Derech eretz kadma letorah,” we are taught that common decency in our interactions with one another even precedes Torah. Words can be weapons of hate or comfort and they are ultimately within our power. 

I’ll be citing examples of both quiet and in-your-face heroism as well as the power of sacred memory to inspire our acts. At our Temple of the Arts, we celebrate Judaism through artistic expression and our unique Chagall prayer book contains a quote from the artist who declared, “The more Jewish we are the more human we become.” Our Jewish identity informs our human decency and each year we are afforded the God-given opportunity of setting the path for a new year of blessing.
— Rabbi David Baron, Beverly Hills Temple of the Arts

Responding to Life’s Fragility
We are living in a time of great uncertainty and rapid change. There are many threats to our sense of safety and security from school shootings to wildfires to the violence at Poway. What does our tradition have to say as guidance in this uncertainty? One piece of our liturgy, the Unetaneh Tokef, speaks about the many dangers present in the coming year and even cultivates in us a spiritual state of uncertainty — not to scare us but to motivate us to take responsibility for changing the things we can. We can’t control when or where the next wildfire will be but we can be strongly supportive of funding for our emergency response teams and coordinated efforts to provide relief and recovery for victims of the fires. We can’t prevent the next school shooting but we can be certain that our school staff knows what to do in such an emergency to protect our children, and we can and should be convening a national conversation on gun violence and prevention. 

We chant Untetaneh Tokef with its plaintive melody and haunting theme as a reminder that life has always been fragile and the Jewish response to that fragility is to appreciate the preciousness of life and to act to improve the world we all live in.
— Rabbi Amy Bernstein, Kehillat Israel

Using Our Time Well 

In “The Summer Day,” the late, great poet Mary Oliver writes: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” In preparation for the upcoming Days of Awe, I ask myself and you, “What will I do with my one, wild and precious year?”

What, in this year to come, will I, will you, be at the cause of? What will you author or inspire, give birth to or launch and let go? What mountain will you climb or relationship will you mend? What difference will your presence make in your home, your family and your community this year?

To inspire us, Torah illustrates this idea of being on a mission, being sent. God says to Moshe in Numbers 13:2: sh’lach. Send out one person from each of the 12 tribes to scout out the land of Canaan. God says, “Be courageous and bring back fruits from the land.”

At my ordination 10 years ago my teacher, Rabbi Arthur Green, the founder and now rector of Hebrew College Rabbinical School in Boston, offered each of us a personal blessing and each rabbi completed their remarks with the phrase from the Book of Isaiah, chapter 6 verse 8: “And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said: ‘Here am I; send me.’ ”

The scene in the Book of Isaiah is one we know from the Amidah, our standing prayer where we go on our toes and say, “kadosh, kadosh, kadosh — holy, holy, holy.” In the Book of Isaiah, we read how God’s robes fill the sacred space and the angles flutter in awe. Then, Isaiah breaks out of what feels like a mystical trance and speaks these two transformative words: “Hineini, shlachani. I’m here. Send me.”

Every day, and especially as the New Year calls us to awaken, it is an auspicious and urgent time to powerfully take on the words of Isaiah and make them our own. So I ask you, what will you do with your one, wild and precious year? Tell me your mission for 5780 and how I can support you. To what quest or purpose will you proudly and eagerly proclaim, “Hineini, shlachani.”
— Rabbi Alyson Solomon, Beth Chayim Chadashim

Caring for Mother Earth 

A birthday is a time to reflect. It is a time to think about the past year and consider how we want to be in the year to come. Rosh Hashanah celebrates the creation of our world. So let’s reflect upon the Earth and the year past. 

From humanity’s point of view, it has been another great year. We continue to completely own this place and have once again proven ourselves to be the fittest such that the future for our genetic material looks good. Our numbers continue to grow and we are extending our domination of the natural world. However, for the Earth and almost every other species, it is has been yet another disastrous year. One million species were lost completely. Forests have been destroyed, water poisoned and arable land used up at eye-popping rates. And the cause of all this destruction? Us. Humans are the biggest threat to almost every life form and the Earth’s ability to provide a habitable environment. 

And yet such actions directly contradict our tradition’s vision for who we are meant to be. We are taught to believe that we are to tend the earth and till [it]. We are not just the consumers but the custodians as well. And we are taught to believe that we are to act now both for ourselves and the generations that follow. We have failed and failed monstrously. Now let’s consider what we must do going forward.
— Rabbi Jonathan Bernhard, Adat Ari El

Finding the Good    

“Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.” 

Mary Oliver wrote these words in her poem “Wild Geese.” Many of us are experiencing hopelessness and despair today. While there are many personal reasons for anguish, there is also a blanket of despair that covers much of our nation. The spike in anti-Semitism, the fear of gun violence, the suffering of children and the assault on truth, to name a few. 

Even at our lowest moments, we can learn from those who came before us. Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav, who battled deep depression, taught: Find a little bit of good in others and ourselves. Anne Frank wrote in her diary, “It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals. … Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

To counter despair, make it a daily spiritual practice to search out the good. It could be simple. Notice your blooming flowers, or be grateful for living in freedom, or your granddaughter’s laughter.

Create an ongoing list of all the good you see. Keep it next to you. Learn to hold both the joy and the pain.
— Rabbi Jill Zimmerman, Path With Heart

A Break From Politics
Soon, Jewish people will be flocking to synagogues, small and large, across the Southland. Many come to shul regularly and they are seeking a deeper understanding of the meaning of life during the High Holy Days. Sharing kabbalistic insights and fascinating Torah thoughts can accomplish this.

Then there are those who set foot into a Jewish house of worship only this one time of the year. These people present rabbis with a uniquely significant challenge of transforming the “once-a-year” Jew into becoming a twice-a-year or even a once-a-week Jew. The way that this is done is with authenticity. By inspiring Jews with the moral values and wisdom of Torah-true Judaism we touch their hearts and ignite their souls.

The overwhelming majority of Jews coming to High Holy Days services this year do not want to hear politics. No matter how important a rabbi feels a certain political issue may be, I believe it would be a big mistake to preach about it from the pulpit. People come to shul to seek spiritual guidance and not hear more of the politics, which have turned brother against brother and neighbors into enemies.

My hope for this High Holy Days season is that we are successful in turning our synagogues into sacred havens of spirituality free of political strife.

That is what I believe people in the pews want to hear this year.
— Rabbi Simcha Backman, Chabad of Glendale and the Foothill Communities

Odyssey of the Soul

We must engage in personal rebuke, to’che’cha. The depravity captured through the media lures us into action, and oversteps the need to first reflect upon our hand in this mess. Yamim Noraim, in name, acknowledges the fear element of these days. This 60-day practice begins on the ninth of Av by looking at our own brokenness. 

Without this, we are missing the essence that requires an authentic nullification of the ego. The High Holy Days remove us from the haughty tasks of ego, and demand vulnerability, culpability and connectedness to awaken us and turn to the understanding that one person’s transgression is all of our transgressions. Our singularity, called “humanity,” must be refined, one person at a time. Only then can we enter into action unified by a god-consciousness that is for the good of all. No red or blue, no liberal or conservative, just humans trying the best that we can. 

Open Temple’s 5780: A Soul Odyssey is a High Holy Days ritual lab that invites participants to engage in this work through ritual practices. We connect these timeless concepts within the machzor to our own personal soul journey as we are each asked to begin again.
 — Rabbi Lori Shapiro, Open Temple

Moving Forward 

The year 5779 has been difficult and, in the middle of all that we face personally, nationally and globally, we must hold on to hope and garner the strength to move forward, taking action for positive change. We must even celebrate the joy of living, loving and come to these High Holy Days both to reconnect with our communities, supporting and gaining strength from one another, as well as individually build resilience, by rediscovering the anchoring presence of the Divine. 

Firming the inner core of our being makes it possible to withstand and cope with whatever it is we must face. Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of the human so, through meditative moments, I will guide a rebirthing of the soul, connecting each person to the breath of the Holy One as described in Torah upon the creation of the first human being.

Feeling the gift of God’s loving grace we are reminded that we are never alone. Despite our fears, we can find the courage to face our iniquities, whether purposeful or inadvertent, mend and heal our relationships and be ready on Yom Kippur to be cleansed of the past, ready, with optimism and confidence, to enter a new year of potentiality.
— Rabbi and Cantor Eva Robbins, Congregation N’vay Shalom

Strengthening Family Ties 

Rosh Hashanah is supposed to be about creation writ large, and the creation of humanity in particular. However, the Torah and haftarah readings for Rosh Hashanah discuss family rupture, rather than creation. We read about a family breakup — the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael (which occurred to Abraham’s dismay according to the Torah), and about the binding of Isaac, which according to midrashic anthologies brought about the death of Sarah, and a lifelong estrangement between Abraham and Isaac. 

In the haftarahs, we read about Hannah’s desperate longing for family, for children and about how we, the children of Israel, are akin, in God’s eyes, to a child who wreaks havoc, thereby making his parents’ innards turn inside out (Jeremiah). Why did the rabbis of antiquity deliberately choose these devastating texts of familial disintegration and heartache for us to read on Rosh Hashanah? In order to emphasize the foundational primacy of familial relationship in Judaism and the human condition. So that we make amends with loved ones before it’s all over, rather than fall prey to the false idols of ego and radical individualism.
— Rabbi Tal Sessler, Sephardic Temple

Questioning and Journeying 

We’re about to go on a journey to the deepest places. Here are some questions to ask along the way:

·   Who am I, and who is God?
·   Why is there a world? And what am I supposed to be doing in it?
·   Am I still growing? Or am I going through life imitating the person I used to be?
·   Are the majority of my prayers for myself and money?
·   When is the last time I had a heart-to-heart conversation with God where I cried?
·   Do I still believe that I can be the person I once wanted to be? And if not, what died inside of me?
·   Is God an idea inside my head? Or am I an idea inside God’s head? (And by way, God doesn’t have a head.)
·   What can I do for the world that nobody else can (even if it’s small)?
·   Should I continue to boycott God until He gives me what I want?
·   Do I believe that I have a soul that lives forever?
·   Does God know better than me, or do I know better than God?
·   Would I ever worship a God you completely understood?
·   Do I believe that God believes in me?
— David Sacks, Emmy-winning writer and podcaster

Making a Change

Every morally reflective person wants change in themselves. Many of us are not sure how to effect change. The upcoming Days of Awe, especially in the Chasidic interpretation, can give us that wisdom. In the Chasidic tradition, the word root Shanah, which means year, has another meaning — change. In the Chasidic tradition, Rosh Hashanah comes to mean the fount of transformation.

This year, one of our teachings at Ohr HaTorah will go into some detail on the process of inner transformation. The first step is to cultivate a relatively detailed vision of what we want to become. Our tradition tells us that our main goals in life should be righteousness (“tzedek”) and well-being (“osher”). Righteousness has to do with our moral character — how we treat others and how we allow others to treat us. Well-being has to do with our inner lives — finding goodness within and combating the forces within us that deprive us of that goodness. For the religiously oriented, a deep part of well-being and inner goodness is a meaningful and nourishing relationship with God.

With a vision for ourselves in the future, we can then work on mastering the will and skills for creating human wholeness.
— Rabbi Mordecai Finley, Ohr HaTorah

Summoning Courage 

In this time of fear and insecurity in our nation and our planet, I will be sharing about the need for courage, ometz lev. Yom Kippur is a day that calls out for courage of heart. Courage is a dance with fear and a strength of heart. I will share about individual courage and collective courage. 

These times we are living in require both: A conscious integration of the individual and the collective is a tremendous gift of the Jewish tradition. There is much courage (strength of heart) in Torah, Psalms, tefillah, rabbinic literature and the Mussar teachings of Rabbi Israel Salanter. 

I will draw from our rich tradition as well as the work of macroeconomist Paul Romer (“The Economics of Ideas”), author Toni Morrison (z”l) and the sermons of Monsignor Oscar Romero (z”l).
— Rabbi Susan Goldberg, Nefesh

Nurturing our Relationship With God

Every year, for one full 25-hour day, Jews across the world reflect and pray. That day is called Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur, one’s fate for the coming year is sealed. As part of our deference to the seriousness of this auspicious day, the Torah requires that we fast on Yom Kippur. But Judaism, being the very practical religion that it is, prohibits us from fasting if doing so endangers life.

Seventy-five years ago, as Yom Kippur approached, the Jewish inmates of Auschwitz debated whether or not to fast. They were, after all, starving —  each of them hovering near death. Among the Auschwitz inmates was a teenager called Elie Wiesel, just three days shy of his 16th birthday. He later wrote of the debate he witnessed that day in Auschwitz. “The question was hotly debated … in this place, we were always fasting, it was Yom Kippur all year round. But there were those who said we should fast anyway, precisely because it was dangerous to do so. We needed to show God that even here, locked up in hell, we were capable of singing His praises.”

What I find most striking about this passage is the faith it communicates: Starving men debating about fasting on Yom Kippur as if their life or death depended on the outcome.

Elie Wiesel did not fast that Yom Kippur. In part, this was because his father forbade him from doing so. But there was another reason, he later recalled. He ate on that Yom Kippur as “a symbol of rebellion, of protest against Him.” For the young teenager, eating that day was not an act of denial, rather it was an act of faith.

Ultimately, Yom Kippur demands that we engage in a relationship with God. The greatest threat to our existence as Jews is if we abandon God and deny His existence. Our purpose, our mission, is to include God in our lives and to nurture our relationship with Him, making it meaningful in every situation.
— Rabbi Pini Dunner, Young Israel of North Beverly Hills

Learning to Love Ourselves, Then the World

I am looking forward to Yom Kippur this year at the Pico-Union Project, helping to lead Kol Nidre. We will do a deep dive into the themes of gratitude, love and hope through the lens of the Vidui, our confessional. Ashamnu, we have trespassed … Al Chet, for the sin … we beat our chests and concentrate on where we have “missed the mark” with the goal of self-improvement. 

However, with a focus on the negative, this can also lead to self-doubt, despair and a lack of trust in one’s ability to do good in our own lives and in the world. Instead, we will look at our confessional from a different perspective: how we can reinforce the positive. Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav teaches us, “Always look for the good in yourself.” The Torah teaches us to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” A condition of loving an “other” is to love oneself, albeit humbly. The sage John Lennon teaches us, “You can learn how to be you in time, it’s easy, all you need is love.” 

Through acknowledging where we have “hit the mark” and what we have gotten right, we have the potential not only to change ourselves, but to change the world.
— Rabbi Bill Kaplan, Pico-Union Project

Finding the Good in Others

The upcoming election, its divisive past and foreboding future has inspired me to rethink the High Holy Days. Our shul on the boardwalk is at the literal “ground zero” of free expression, yet the left-right divide has ripped through our community. Can we change the trajectory of this assault on the raison d’etre of our holy sanctuaries? The creation, through inclusivity and acceptance, of spiritual homes for everyone? Absolutely, and a radical new approach to the essence of this period can be our key.

A practicing lawyer, I read the machzor and I can’t help thinking how the term “time of judgment” sounds somewhat fraudulent. What court would allow a parent to adjudicate her child’s case and remain unbiased? Yet we audaciously proclaim “Our father our king” seeking special treatment every year. Is this true justice?

The lesson: Worry not about being judged, but how you judge others. Save impartiality for the earthly courts and be as unabashedly biased as God is when judging the words or deeds of others. Find the good and potential great that lies within all. Applying this, we will find plenty of praise for whoever occupies the seat next to us, in shul or anywhere else.
— Rabbi Shalom Rubanowitz, Shul on the Beach

From Despair to Hope: Rosh Hashanah Resilience

Our world is in a fragile state. You just have to look around us to see the world is on fire. Literally and figuratively. The Amazon is burning. Truth is under attack. Totalitarianism has reared its ugly head. Children are in cages. Anti-Semitism is palpable. You can taste despair with every breath.

When we sat together last year on the High Holy Days, we couldn’t have imagined Pittsburgh and Poway or the many violent attacks on synagogues and fellow Jews. Anti-Semitic violence is a growing menace. 

But now, in their aftermath, exhausted by the constant assault on our senses and our institutions, I see despair and sadness and grief creeping into our collective psyche. The despair is real. Each day, there is a desperate sense that hope is fleeting for our nation, for the planet and, sadly, despair eats away at many of us. 

On Rosh Hashanah, we imagine a new world; a world reborn. We pray to imagine a new way of being for ourselves. We pray for the chance to take all the brokenness inside of us and the brokenness inside the world and rebuild our lives and rebuild our world.

When we celebrate Rosh Hashanah with the sound of the shofar, we are being called to awaken our souls from the dark night that haunts us. Let the sounds of the tekiah lead us to toward renewal and revitalization. Its sounds remind us to persevere in the face of adversity.
— Rabbi Denise Eger, Kol Ami

Back to Basics

We focus on the theme of teshuvah — repentance. I think this year we need to focus on teshuvah as returning, as a reset. Holding in that pinhole-sized button to refresh the selves we wish to be, the world we wish to live in, the themes of our souls that can be drowned out by the cacophony of mundane living. 

This year, my thoughts, my leadership and my advice became reactive. Reactive to situations that leave people anxious, angry, destroyed or disappointed. Sure, there were beautiful moments of creation and joy this year as well, but if I think back to a theme, it was “reaction.” 

Wanting to maintain safe space for all voices of the political spectrum; wanting to hold close those who fear our spiritual home might be the next target; wanting to build bridges with open arms. That was this past year. 

So for the coming year, my intention or kavanah, and focus are returning to foundational tenets: 

What does it mean to believe in God? 

Choosing spiritual space 

A life of fear. A life of momentum 

Nothing is gone forever, only out of place 

I hope that we all have the opportunity to experience teshuvah and reset to our basics.
— Rabbi Rebecca Schatz, Temple Beth Am

Focusing on ‘Avinu’ and the Spirituality of the Parent-Child Relationship 

This summer, my husband and I were blessed to welcome our first child. As my parent-child relationship unfolds, I am reflecting on what it means for God to be our parent and we, His children. 

This message is built into Rosh Hashanah and applies to all of us whether or not we are parents ourselves. The liturgical language of “Avinu” (God as “our Father”), the Torah and haftarah readings, and the day celebrating God giving birth to the world, encourage us to reflect on being both God’s children who receive His love, and God’s appointed “parents” in this world who give love to others. 

And so, to deepen our tefillot, I encourage us to ask: How is viewing God as a parent informed by our relationships with our own parents? And how can God’s role as a loving parent impact how we care for others? Embodying God’s model may be tough, but it is holy year-round work. 

This Rosh Hashanah, as God’s children, may we be blessed to receive and accept love, even if we feel unworthy. And as God’s spiritually appointed “parents” in this world, may we give love selflessly, exercising sacrifice, flexibility and faith.
— Rabbanit Alissa Thomas-Newborn, B’nai David-Judea

Global and Inner Transitions

With the Israeli election drama unfolding and the presidential elections underway, there’s a lot of transition. According to the kabbalah, the outer world is an analogy for our inner world. Therefore, I would like to focus on how global transition reflects the inner transition of our teshuvah process. Change, compromise and conflict.
— Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn, rav and dean of Yavneh Hebrew Academy

Let’s Get Serious About Saving Lives

It’s widely understood in our community that pikuach nefesh, acting to preserve and protect a life, is so critical that it takes precedence over nearly everything else. If God taught us that protecting a life trumps other mitzvot, why are we letting down God so terribly?

Locally, 44,000 people struggle to stay alive each day on our streets, battling the cruel depravity of homelessness. Globally, 200-plus species will disappear this year, and all life is in peril of extinction as we cook our planet with CO2.

I wish I could deliver only good news entering 5780, but God wants a true accounting. We can’t fudge our returns when they’re sent to the auditor-in-chief. God entrusted us with the care of the downtrodden and to be stewards of the Earth, and it seems we are personally and collectively failing. 

So when we bow our heads, and strike our chest acknowledging our collective failings as a Jewish community, we each need to ask ourselves two questions: What am I going to do, and what are we going to do in 5780 to take responsibility and be part of the solution to solving homelessness and slowing global warming?
— Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, Pico Shul 

The Hope and Repentance of the Days of Awe

We are entering an incredibly emotionally charged time as this past year has touched all of us personally, nationally and globally. During the month of Elul, we began our preparation, taking account of where we fell short while knowing that God awaits with open arms to receive even the most shattered among us. Song of Songs reminds us “I let my devotion sleep,” but Shema, listening attentively, “my heart hears the voice of my beloved (the Divine) knocking, whispering, Open to me.” 

Sunday evening, Sept. 29, is Rosh Hashanah, offering a new beginning. It celebrates the birthday of the world, which began on Wednesday, the 25th of Elul, as well as the birthday of the human being, six days later, the first of Tishrei. Like life itself, it is an expression of both light and dark, the sweet and the bitter. We celebrate both the joy of new possibilities represented by eating apples with honey for the promise of a sweet year while acknowledging the heaviness of year’s end, reviewing our failures, omissions and sinful behavior toward others.

Unlike Jan. 1, when we often make resolutions, empty promises often unfulfilled, this is a time for preparing and understanding where we missed the mark and dedicating ourselves to taking action, bringing more wholeness to our lives. We open ourselves to the grandeur and awesomeness of this great day and all that it can bring. 

This holiday means to return, Teshuvah, to our authentic self, the soul we often abandon. We are called to surrender to the brokenness, the pain or the unrequited love we so deeply want to repair within the tender parts of our being as well as the relationships often worn away by lack of attention or hurtful words and actions, often unaware of the unintended impact of mistaken choices. This time reverberates with possibility but demands our attention and commitment not only to celebrate but also do the work, which extends through the Asseret Y’mei T’shuvah, the Ten Days of Return, culminating with Yom Kippur. Just as Passover leads to Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah takes us to the cleansing day, 10 days later, of Yom Kippur.

The name itself hints at a much deeper understanding. The word rosh means head and shanah means “to repeat, change or year.” Literally it means the “head of change or repetition,” depending on what we decide to do.

Will this New Year maintain the status quo for us or will it be an opportunity to mend, heal and even elevate our lives in new or risky ways? The kabbalists teach that the “head” is the place of spirituality — keter (crown) at the top and right and left brain, chochma (wisdom) and beena (understanding), the center of consciousness. Rosh Hashanah is literally where we begin to assess, consider and decide how we will move forward — resisting or surrendering to who we can become.

This Holy Day also has three other names reflecting its purpose and themes — Yom Ha-Din, the Day of Judgment; Yom Ha-Zikaron, the Day of Remembrance; and Yom T’ruah, the Day of Blowing the Shofar. These themes represent the past, present and future. Yom Ha-Zikaron is when God remembers all that we have done over the past year; Yom Ha-Din is God, King/Queen and Judge, the ultimate ruler and decider of what our fate might be; and Yom T’ruah, the mighty sound of the shofar as it reflects our anguish, our call, and our desire for wholeness this coming year.

The language of our prayer book can feel foreign and hard to relate to, having originated hundreds of years ago. But we need to suspend our disbelief and modern sensibilities. We need to be willing to capture the spirit of their message, which  teaches us our place in the universe with its grander scheme that rules the how and why of Creation. Our tradition teaches it is HaShem, the Divine Creator of all.

Will this New Year maintain the status quo for us or will it be an opportunity to mend, heal and even elevate our lives in new or risky ways? 

We stand with our fellow congregants, friends and family, mere mortals, praying, singing and meditating to the Holy One, Blessed Be S/He — the Judge, the King/Queen, and most importantly the parent, the Great Father/Mother, who loves us unconditionally, waiting with open arms to forgive when we are willing to be humble and contrite.

The Talmud teaches there are three books opened now, one for the completely wicked, one for the completely righteous, and one for those of us between, benoni, mortals who in our humanity make mistakes. These coming days give us the opportunity to amend what’s recorded by turning toward blessing and goodness, as the liturgy says, “Teshuvah, Tefillah, Tzedakah,” repentance, prayer/spiritual work and charity modify the Judgment. For 10 days, we have the opportunity to take even baby steps, to shift our behavior — making reconciliation where necessary, praying/meditating for clarity and support, and bring lovingkindness to others through words or deeds. Moses reminded the people, when they were ready to go into the land, “Take care lest you forget HaShem … you become satisfied, build good houses, increase cattle, silver, and gold and your heart becomes haughty.”

It is so easy in our comfort to forget the source of our good fortune and worship the idols of materialism, ego and outer trappings. Each year we are gifted with an opportunity to transform the past, reinvigorate the present and awaken hope and confidence for the future.

The glorious sounds and profound words we hear during these coming days can move us and release the tears of pain and joy that well up within. Like a mikveh, ritual bath, we can be cleansed and transformed, shedding the unwanted layers of guilt and shame that hold us back. 

This is a time of rebirth and renewal. May it be a sweet year that brings less division and greater peace, less hate and more love, less anxiety and more serenity, and greater opportunity for each person to express their purest soul.

Eva Robbins is a rabbi, cantor, artist and the author of “Spiritual Surgery, Journey of Healing Mind, Body and Spirit.” 

High Holiday Memories

At Casimir Pulaski elementary school in Chicago, I was the envy of my classmates every September. Many of them had never known a Jew, but school had barely begun and I alone was absent for both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

My parents, who fled Poland to Siberia and then to Kyrgyzstan, where I was born, finally came to the United States from a displaced person’s camp in 1951. I was 5  years old. We moved into an immigrant Polish neighborhood on the near north side of Chicago, where my parents could communicate and thus support their four children. My parents’ America was the familiar mini-Warsaw of kielbasa-eating blue-collared laborers and bundle-shlepping babushka’d-women. 

By contrast, my America was “Ozzie & Harriet” and “Father Knows Best” with the Nelsons and Andersons as my role models. Dressed in high heels and frilly aprons, perky Harriet and Margaret served the cotton-y white bread I desired, not rye “mit” seeds, and they never “pooh-poohed” against the evil eye. 

The High Holy Days were challenging. While delighted that my friends languished in school when I was free, sitting in synagogue was hardly freedom. By the 1950s, Jews began to move northward, abandoning urban neighborhoods, and our dilapidated shul consisted largely of elderly stragglers and newly arrived immigrants. Children’s participation in services was considered narrishkayt — nonsense. We were expected to be still, and I sat, unaware of even the page number. This was my parents’ New Year. 

My television New Year featured streamers, midnight revelry and sequined dresses. In fairness, I noted that both traditions involved countdowns. The American countdown was when Champagne corks popped and people kissed at midnight as I twirled my Purim noisemaker. The Jewish countdown of sins was less compelling. I didn’t understand Hebrew, so the sins escaped me. Then I unearthed a prayer book with English translation that piqued my interest. Minor transgressions impressed me not, but I savored those I deemed most foul, even when I didn’t understand them. The Sarah Bernhardt in me wholeheartedly embraced the drama of breast-beating. While I longed for a breast to beat, I pummeled my scrawny chest and envisioned a buxom new year.

Minor transgressions impressed me not, but I savored those I deemed most foul, even when I didn’t understand them. The Sarah Bernhardt in me wholeheartedly embraced the drama of breast-beating.

The Yizkor memorial service was especially poignant. Before what we called Mazkir Neshomes, my mother whisked us children outside as if pursued by demons, ordering us to stay put until called. In wonder and fear, I imagined the souls of our relatives who died in the Holocaust taking shape in the sanctuary, floating aloft like figures in a Chagall painting. Terrified lest the spirits snatch me away, I stayed dutifully outside. 

We few kids passed the time venting energy and exchanging scary stories. When she reappeared, my mother was subdued. I understood her sadness to mean that she wouldn’t see her lost family for an entire year.

Although our New Year lacked the sartorial splendor, food we did have. After services came the fruits of my mother’s nights of labor. My father made Kiddush and we dipped apples into honey for a sweet year. We began with ovals of gefilte fish in aspic crowned by carrot rings, along with horseradish and mounds of challah. After my brother warned that it would put hair on my chest I began skipping the horseradish.

On returning to school, my friends were perplexed by my family’s peculiar observance. I was 12 when we moved to a Jewish area and was relieved not to explain myself every holiday. 

Decades and countless jars of honey have passed and I still appreciate both new years — the countdowns, the sequins and spangles, the rituals, the food. My holiday menu is much the same as my dear mother’s, and my parents’ traditions learned from their parents has been shared with my children. I’d like to think that they would do the same with their families. Happy New Year. Shanah tovah. May we all be inscribed in the book of life.

Sara Nuss-Galles’ work has appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Lilith, Catamaran and numerous anthologies.

How Rosh Hashanah Can Change Your Life

There are plenty of somber themes at this time of year — themes like repentance, atonement, forgiveness and so on. It’s heavy stuff, and we must honor it. It’s important to hold ourselves accountable for our sins and mistakes, and Rosh Hashanah is our annual opportunity to do just that.

But there’s another aspect to Rosh Hashanah that has always intrigued me: Why do we greet the Jewish New Year on the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar, Tishrei, rather than the first month, Nisan?

In other words, why does Rosh Hashanah, the “head” of the Jewish year, not follow the actual calendar in the same way that the secular New Year begins on Jan. 1?

If you take this question to heart, it can change your life.

You see, Rosh Hashanah commemorates something much deeper than the rhythm of a calendar — it commemorates the actual creation of the world. It commemorates creativity.

Why is this a game changer? Because it offers us a blueprint for how to renew our lives.

When we try to heal from things like loneliness, depression or trauma, we often talk about renewing ourselves.

When we lose a family member, when a marriage breaks up or a job is lost, or when we just feel an emptiness in our lives, we also talk about renewing ourselves. A “new beginning” gives us hope; it reminds us it’s never too late to make something out of our short and precious lives.

What it doesn’t do, however, is guide us — it doesn’t tell us how to renew ourselves.

This is where the act of creation comes in. Rosh Hashanah commemorates the ultimate, most essential creative moment in human history — the act of creating the world.

Since we are created in God’s image, when we ourselves create something from nothing, we are participating in this ultimate, most essential and holiest of acts.  

Creativity may lack the drama of repairing the world, but it has the drama of repairing ourselves. When we create, we’re less likely to get angry, to gossip, to hurt someone, to feel resentful or fearful or lonely.

Think of the moments in your life when you experienced great satisfaction. In my case, even as I write this, I’m experiencing the fulfillment of making something from scratch. A blank screen has turned into a collection of thoughts and ideas that I am sharing with you.

This kind of satisfaction has few equals. It doesn’t matter what you create — a bookshelf, a poem, a meal, a painting, a garden, a song, a friendship, a TV show, a story, a newspaper column. What matters is that you took nothing and turned it into something. You created a world.

It’s true that during these High Holy Days, we’ll hear more sermons about morality than about creativity. Yes, this is a time to work on our ethics, on our relationships, on how well we fulfill our obligations to our families, communities and to humanity.

But there’s room for creativity in this moral picture. Creativity may lack the drama of repairing the world, but it has the drama of repairing ourselves. When we create, we’re less likely to get angry, to gossip, to hurt someone, to feel resentful or fearful or lonely, or simply to waste hours looking at Instagram. 

Creating is the opposite of consuming. Instead of passively munching on something external, we actively create something internal, something rooted in our creative spirit.

Creating is the opposite of consuming. Instead of passively munching on something external, we actively create something internal, something rooted in our creative spirit.

By honoring the act of creation, Rosh Hashanah does something extraordinary: It honors not simply the passage of time but what we can do with that time. It honors, indeed, time itself, inspiring us to spend our time in creative ways that can enrich our lives.

Tapping into our creative spirit requires courage. People who create take risks; they stick their necks out. They’re not afraid to look foolish or ridiculous. Writing a weekly column for 13 years is a constant reminder that one false note here or there, one mistake, can come back to bite me. 

The rewards, though, are more than worth it.

So, as you reflect on new beginnings during these Holy Days, look for a blank page, a blank wall, a blank section on your calendar. Look for anything blank, anything empty, and ask yourself: How can I turn nothing into something?

The satisfaction may be so great that you may find it easier to repent, atone and forgive.

Shanah tovah.

Sept. 27, 2019

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The Crispy Wonder of the Persian Cucumber 

In terms of fresh produce, there are few things as sacrilegious to most Middle Easterners than eating those bulky, tasteless, American slicing cucumbers.

They’re unnecessarily thick, have an inedible peel and measure up to 10 inches. Elizabeth Schneider, author of “Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini: The Essential Reference,” even went so far as to call this variety “pumped-up, tasteless, seedy blimps with greasy, thick, nasty skin masquerading as cucumbers.”

As an Iranian American, I may be biased but in terms of freshness, crunchiness and that unmistakable cucumber scent that wafts through the summer heat, nothing comes close to the Persian cucumber.

Or, as many horticulturists call it, “Beit Alpha,” after its birthplace.

The Persian cucumber as we know it today first was cultivated on a northern Israeli kibbutz in 1939.

If it’s hard to believe that the Persian cucumber got its start in Israel, it’s more mind-bending to learn that the first farmers to cultivate this extraordinary fruit — the staple of every Middle Eastern salad from Tehran to Tel Aviv — were Polish immigrants.

Every time I enjoy the crispness of these practically seedless treats, which grow up to six inches and whose peels are also delightfully edible, I think of that northern Israeli kibbutz, which still exists.

Experience has led me to believe that Persian culture has a unique way of taking over, and cucumbers are no exception. It wasn’t long before the cucumbers’ popularity soared across the Middle East and the moniker became the “Persian” cucumber.

We chuckle at the charming habits of non-Persians who pay more than 79 cents a pound for Persian cucumbers at major supermarket chains.

Persians take their cucumbers, or khiar, very seriously, and they eat half a dozen a day, on average, which explains why they are so cheap at Persian markets.

I’m referring to cucumbers, not Persians.

We chuckle at the charming habits of non-Persians who pay more than 79 cents a pound for Persian cucumbers at major supermarket chains. Owners of local Persian supermarkets know to expect riots if they ever raise the price of their cucumbers.

Because picking the perfect Persian cucumber begins long before one enters the Persian market, here are my foolproof guidelines:

Before leaving the house, stuff your socks with anything that can serve as padding, such as cotton balls, more socks, or even day-old bread. Take extra precaution around your shins; old Persian women seem to delight in attacking many a vulnerable shank as they viciously push their carts through crowded aisles and toward the prized fresh produce.

Once at the market, immediately proceed to the produce section, locate the massive bin of Persian cucumbers and then identify a Persian grandmother.

As sure as the sun rises in the East, there is always a grandmother next to the bin of Persian cucumbers. Stand directly behind her without scaring the poor woman.

She will be your adopted grandmother for the duration of your time at the cucumber bin.

Watch carefully as she picks up each cucumber and inspects it for four nearly unattainable virtues: length, firmness, girth and an unblemished peel. Since old Persian women choose only perfect cucumbers, look carefully at each cucumber she deems inadequate and returns to the bin.

These are your cucumbers.

You’ll never have her skill in choosing the perfect ones so don’t bother. But in buying your adopted Persian grandmother’s rejected cucumbers, you can rest assured you got second best, which is good enough for you.

If you value the advantage of selecting Persian cucumbers, be aware that trying to purchase them at Trader Joe’s — or anywhere else where they’re prepackaged — is frustrating because you can’t open one pre-wrapped container and swap unattractive cucumbers for more appealing ones from another container. I know this from personal experience as well as from the faces of several disgruntled employees. It’s best to take your swollen ankles, calves and shins back to the Persian market, where cucumbers are sold in bulk.

From breakfast buffets in Jerusalem hotels, kebab shops in Isfahan, and falafel stands in Beirut, the Persian cucumber often is the main ingredient in a fresh, crispy salad. Of course, my Shirazi-born husband and his family would demand that I call this salad by its now-universal term, in Iran, at least: “Salad-e-Shirazi,” or the Shirazi salad.

Growing up in Iran, my sister and I would fight viciously over who would get to slurp the juice from the finished salad bowl, until we arrived in the U.S. and discovered the heavenly milk that was leftover in our cereal bowls.

Shirazi Salad (SALAD-E SHIRAZI)

4 Persian cucumbers, unpeeled, ends trimmed and diced into 1/4-inch pieces
3 Roma tomatoes, diced into 1/4-inch pieces
1/3 cup red onions, diced into 1/8-inch pieces
1 teaspoon dried mint
1/4 to 1/3 cup of freshly-squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

In a non-metallic bowl, add the first four ingredients and mix gently. Just before serving, add the lime juice (beginning with 1/4 cup and adding more, if necessary), olive oil, salt and pepper and toss gently.

This salad can be served at room temperature and works beautifully alongside heavier dishes such as meat, rice or stew. If you find yourself fighting over the last bit of juice in the bowl, thank the kibbutzniks who brought this wonderful fruit to life 80 years ago.

Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer and speaker.

High Holy Day Calendar 5780

Sept. 29: Erev Rosh HashanahSept. 30: Rosh HashanahOct. 1: Second Day of Rosh HashanahOct. 8: Kol Nidre; Oct. 9: Yom Kippur

Debating where to go for the High Holy Days? We got you covered. Here’s a list of services happening at nearly 80 synagogues across L.A. and Ventura Counties. By no means complete, but hey, we tried.

Whether you go traditional or alternative, we hope to see you in the pews. L’Shanah Tovah!


Adat Ari El
The Conservative congregation holds High Holy Days services. Erev Rosh Hashanah 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Rosh Hashanah 8:30 a.m. both days. Family service first day 9 a.m. Second day 10 a.m. Tashlich second day 3 p.m. in Franklin Canyon. Kol Nidre two services 6 p.m., 6:15 p.m. Yom Kippur 9 a.m. Mincha-Neilah 4:30 p.m. Farber Auditorium. 5 p.m. Sanctuary. $18 ages 6-26, $75 ages 27-29, $100 ages 30 and over. Adat Ari El, 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 766-9426.

Beit Hamidrash of Woodland Hills
Ashkenazic, Sephardic and Yemenite services. Guest Rabbi Shalom Hammer from Israel participates. Erev Rosh Hashanah 6:30 p.m., Rosh Hashanah first and second day 9 a.m., Mincha 6:30 p.m., Kol Nidre 6:15 p.m., Yom Kippur 8:30 a.m. Donate what you can afford. 5850 Fallbrook Ave., Woodland Hills. Call ahead for reservations. Ashkenazi: (818) 999-2059; Sephardic: (818) 610-7683; Yemenite: (818) 601-7100.

Calabasas Shul
Orthodox congregation’s erev Rosh Hashanah 6:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah first day 8 a.m. services, 10:30 a.m. children’s program, 10:45 a.m. sermon and shofar followed by learner’s service, community lunch, Mincha and tashlich. 7:15 p.m. Ma’ariv private home. Rosh Hashanah second day. 8 a.m. services, 10:30 a.m. children’s program, 10:45 a.m. sermon and shofar followed by Kiddush and Mincha. 7:40 p.m. Ma’ariv private home. Kol Nidre 6:10 p.m. services, 6:15 p.m. children’s program. Yom Kippur 8 a.m. services, 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. children’s program, 11 a.m. sermon and Yizkor, 4:15 p.m. Mincha, 5:45 p.m. Neilah, 7:10 p.m. Ma’ariv. 7:27 p.m. shofar and Havdalah. Rosh Hashanah community lunch on the first day $55 per adult, $30 per child. All services free. Donation requested. Unless otherwise noted, all services at Bay Laurel Elementary, 24740 Paseo Primario, Calabasas. (818) 724-7485.

Congregation Beth Ohr
Rabbi Haim Beliak and Cantorial Soloist Andrew Henry lead the independent spiritual and cultural community’s services. Gilla Nissan and Richard Cohen give Torah readings. Violinist Novi Novog performs Kol Nidre. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Kol Nidre 7:30 p.m. Yom Kippur morning service 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Includes brief Yizkor service. Yom Kippur afternoon service 3-6 p.m. Includes study session, full Yizkor, closing service and breakfast. Tickets $40 per service, $55 for entire Yom Kippur day. RSVP or come when you can. congregationbethohrsc@gmail.com. Congregation Beth Ohr, 12355 Moorpark St., Studio City. (818) 773-3663.

Congregation Or Ami
Musical services led by Rabbis Paul Kipnes and Julia Weisz and Cantor Doug Cotler. Various times. Evening and morning services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur require tickets for each worshipper. Family services in the afternoon. Tashlich at the Beach. Yizkor and Neilah services don’t require tickets. $360 adults; $290 seniors 63 and older; $280 grades 4-12; $20 grades pre-K-third grade. Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, Fred Kavli Theatre, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. Yom Kippur Family Service and Neilah at Congregation Or Ami, 26115 Mureau Road, Suite B, Calabasas. (818) 880-4880.

Congregation Shir Ami
Rabbi David Vorspan and Cantorial Soloist Ayana Haviv lead Conservative services at this haimish congregation. Erev Rosh Hashanah 8 p.m. Rosh Hashanah first day 9 a.m. Rosh Hashanah second day contemporary service 10 a.m. Kol Nidre 6:45 p.m. Yom Kippur 10 a.m. Yizkor 12:45 p.m. Blessing of children 7 p.m. Adults 19 and over $125, seniors 65 and over $100, children 18 and under $50. De Toledo High School, 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. (818) 886-8853 or ellenfremed@gmail.com for ticket information.

Kol Tikvah
Reform synagogue’s erev Rosh Hashanah 7:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah 9:30 a.m. Kol Nidre 7:30 p.m. Yom Kippur 9:30 a.m. Tickets, $336 adults, $218 seniors and children. Kol Tikvah, 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 348-0670.

Leo Baeck Temple
Reform community’s erev Rosh Hashanah 7:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah 9:30 a.m. Kol Nidre 7:30 p.m. Yom Kippur 9:30 a.m. $250 young adults ages 26-29, $300 adults. Leo Baeck Temple, 1300 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 476-2861.

Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue
Rabbi Michael Schwartz and Cantor Marcelo Gindlin lead Reconstructionist services, featuring the MJCS Choir and Chamber Orchestra. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah first day 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., 4 p.m. tashlich at Westward Beach. Rosh Hashanah second day 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Kol Nidre 7 p.m. Yom Kippur morning service 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., rabbi-led discussion 3:15-4 p.m., Yizkor 5-5:30 p.m., Neilah 5:30-7:15 p.m. General adult Rosh Hashanah $180, general Rosh Hashanah children’s service $60, general adult $180, general Yom Kippur service $60. (310) 456-2178.

Services led by Rabbi/Cantor Judy Greenfield. Erev Rosh Hashanah apples and honey reception 7 p.m., services 7:30 p.m. Tashlich Sept. 30 5 p.m. Rosh Hashanah 9:30 a.m. Kol Nidre 7:30 p.m. Yom Kippur 9:30 a.m., Yizkor and Neilah 3 p.m. Performing Arts Education Center, 22855 Mulholland Highway, Calabasas. Reserve your ticket at (818) 789-7314 or officenachson@gmail.com.

Shomrei Torah Synagogue
Conservative congregation’s erev Rosh Hashanah service for preschool to second grade 5 p.m. Main service 6 p.m. Rosh Hashanah 8:30 a.m. Children’s service 9 a.m. Rosh Hashanah second day 8:30 a.m. Kol Nidre 6:30 p.m. Children’s service 6:30 p.m. Yom Kippur 8:30 a.m. Children’s service 9 a.m. Teens service 10 a.m. Neilah 5:30 p.m. $250 for general public. Members may purchase tickets for relatives and other family at the member price of $180 per ticket. Shomrei Torah Synagogue, 7353 Valley Circle Blvd., West Hills. (818) 854-7650.

Stephen Wise Temple
Large Bel Air Reform community’s erev Rosh Hashanah Family Soulful Service for all ages 5-6 p.m., Erev Rosh Hashanah All-Community Service 8-9:30 p.m. Both held on Wise campus. Rosh Hashanah day one 8:45-11 a.m., 12:15-2:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah day two 10 a.m. No ticket required. Kol Nidre 8-9:30 p.m. Yom Kippur day 8:45 a.m.-11:30 a.m., 12:45 p.m.-3:30 p.m., Yom Kippur afternoon 4:30 p.m. (Mincha), 5:30 p.m. (Neilah). Additional services times listed online. Services held at the Stephen Wise Temple Campus, Skirball Cultural Center and Bel Air Church. Tickets available at the door for guests at the Bel Air Church. Adults $90 per service, seniors 65 and over $65, youth ages 10-26 $40. Stephen Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 889-2394.

Synagogue for the Performing Arts
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin and Cantor Judy Fox lead erev Rosh Hashanah 8 p.m. Rosh Hashanah first day 10 a.m. Rosh Hashanah second day free service 10 a.m. Kol Nidre 8 p.m. Yom Kippur 10 a.m., children’s service 11 a.m., Yizkor 12:30 p.m., Neilah 6:30 p.m. $125 for individual services, $500 for all services. Airtel Plaza Hotel, 7277 Valjean Ave., Van Nuys. (310) 472-3500.

Temple Ahavat Shalom
Northridge Reform community’s erev Rosh Hashanah family service 5:15 p.m., main service 7:45 p.m. Rosh Hashanah 8:45 a.m. Bim Bam service, 10:30 a.m. main service. Kol Nidre family service 5:15 p.m., main service 7:45 p.m. Yom Kippur Bim Bam service 8:30 a.m., main service 10:30 a.m., Yizkor 4:30 p.m., Neilah 5:15 p.m. Tickets $360 adults, $170 seniors 67 and over and students. Temple Ahavat Shalom, 18200 Rinaldi Place Spirit, Northridge. (818) 360-2258.

Temple B’nai Hayim
Conservative community Temple B’nai Hayim, in association with Congregation Beth Meier, holds erev Rosh Hashanah at 7:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah first and second days 9 a.m. Kol Nidre 6 p.m. Yom Kippur 9 a.m., Neilah 6:15 p.m. Tickets $870 for individual, includes membership and one ticket. $1,270 for family, includes membership and two tickets. Temple B’nai Hayim, 4302 Van Nuys Blvd., Sherman Oaks. (818) 788-4664.

Temple Etz Chaim
Thousand Oaks Conservative congregation holds erev Rosh Hashanah 6:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah first day 9 a.m., family service 2:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah second day 9 a.m. Yom Kippur 9 a.m. Tickets for nonmembers $206 reserved pews, $155 reserved chairs. For non-members $255. For members’ relatives $140. Parking $500. Temple Etz Chayim, 1080 E. Janss Rd., Thousand Oaks. (805) 497-6891.

Temple Judea
The Tarzana synagogue’s services for families with children of all ages are open to the general public. Traditional machzor, song leader and guitar for high-energy experience. Erev Rosh Hashanah 5:30 p.m. early service, 8 p.m. late service. Rosh Hashanah first day 9 a.m., late service 12:45 p.m. Rosh Hashanah second day, open to the entire community, 10 a.m. Kol Nidre 5:30 p.m. early service, 8 p.m. late service. Yom Kippur day 9 a.m. early service, 12:45 p.m. late service, 4:30 p.m. Yizkor, Neilah. $260-$300. Temple Judea, 5429 Lindley Ave., Tarzana. (818) 758-3800.

Temple Judea’s Rosh Hashanah @ Camp
Temple Judea repeats the “Rosh Hashanah at Camp” service, combining Jewish holiday celebration and camp. The day includes the service, lunch and camp activities at Camp Alonim in Simi Valley, followed by tashlich. Monday, Sept. 30, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Lunch is included as part of the day. Dress for a day at camp. Camp Alonim, 1101 Pepper Tree Lane, Simi Valley. $25-40. (818) 758-3800.

Temple Ner Simcha
Free High Holy Days services with this Agoura-based community, which blends Reform and Conservative Judaism. Reserve tickets early. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah first day 9 a,m., tashlich at the Westlake Village Inn 4:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah second day 9 a.m. Kol Nidre 7:30 p.m. Yom Kippur 9 a.m. Except for tashlich, all services at the Canyon Club, 28912 Roadside Drive, Agoura Hills. Temple Ner Simcha, 880 Hampshire Rd., Westlake Village. (818) 851-0030.

Temple Ramat Zion
Northridge congregation’s erev Rosh Hashanah 5:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah first day 8:15 a.m. Rosh Hashanah second day 9 a.m. Kol Nidre 6 p.m. Yom Kippur day 8:15 a.m., Yizkor 12:45 p.m., final shofar 7:01 p.m. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur $250 per seat, ages 13-65. Ages 65 and over and children 12 and under $225 per seat. Temple Ramat Zion, 17655 Devonshire St., Northridge. (818) 360-1881.

Valley Beth Shalom
Main services feature traditional and contemporary prayers and melodies led by VBS clergy, accompanied by piano and members of the VBS congregational choir. Sephardic service features traditional Sephardic melodies led by Sephardic cantors. Erev Rosh Hashanah first service 6 p.m., second service 7:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah first day main services 7:45 a.m., 1:15 p.m., Sephardic service 8:30 a.m. Rosh Hashanah second day main service 7:45 a.m., Sephardic service 8:30 a.m., tashlich 4 p.m. Lake Balboa. Kol Nidre main service 6 p.m., 8:45 p.m., Sephardic service 6:30 p.m. Yom Kippur main service 7:45 a.m., 1:45 p.m., Sephardic service 8:30 a.m. Yom Kippur evening service free and open to the community. Bring your own shofar and participate in the final Mincha at 5 p.m. Neilah 6:30 p.m. Final sounding of the shofar 7:15p.m. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 788-6000.

Valley Outreach Synagogue
The interdenominational congregation holds musical High Holy Days services led by Rabbi Ron Li-Paz and chaplain Jennifer Nye. High Holy Days services are offered via free livestream to those in college, out of town, home- or hospital-bound. All services except for Yom Kippur afternoon are in the Shepherd Church sanctuary, offering state-of-the-art technology and free of iconography. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah 10 a.m., tashlich at the beach at 3 p.m. Kol Nidre 7:30 p.m. Yom Kippur 10 a.m., Yizkor-Neilah 3:30 p.m. at Valley Outreach Synagogue. No one admitted without a ticket. Tickets will not be sold at the door. Shepherd Church, 19700 Rinaldi Pl., Porter Ranch. Valley Outreach Synagogue, 26668 Agoura Rd., Calabasas. For individual tickets, email info@vosla.org.


Beth Shirah Congregation
Led by Cantor Estherleon Schwartz. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7:30 p.m., Rosh Hashanah day 10:30 a.m., enjoy a bowl of delicious homemade soup. Kol Nidre 7:30 p.m. Yom Kippur 10:30 a.m. Free. Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., Hollywood. (323) 653-7420. RSVP by clicking the link above.

Congregation Kol Ami
Rabbis Denise Eger and Max Chaiken and Cantor Patti Linsky lead the LGBT congregation’s services. Erev Rosh Hashanah 8 p.m. Rosh Hashanah first day 10 a.m., children’s service 10:30 a.m. Rosh Hashanah second day, 10 a.m. Kol Nidre 8 p.m. Yom Kippur 10 a.m. All service general tickets $320 each. Includes all services. All services except Rosh Hashanah second day held at Harmony Gold Theatre, 7655 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. Rosh Hashanah second day at Kol Ami, 1200 N. La Brea Ave. (323) 606-0996.

Hollywood Temple Beth El
Rabbi Norbert Weinberg and Cantor Andrew Erman lead services. Assisted by Cantor Isaac Boudaie and Iranian Jewish leader Isaac Norman. Musical accompanist is Diana Brownson. Reservations for admission must be paid for in advance online. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7 p.m. Rosh Hashanah first and second days 9 a.m. Kol Nidre 7 p.m. Yom Kippur 9 a.m. $120 general admission, $75 students, Military and first responders free. Hollywood Temple Beth El, 1317 N. Crescent Heights Blvd., West Hollywood. (323) 656-3150.

Laugh Factory
For the 36th consecutive year, the Laugh Factory comedy club holds free High Holy Days services, conducted in the Reform tradition by Rabbi Bob Jacobs. Rosh Hashanah 11 a.m.-1 p.m. service. Refreshments follow. Kol Nidre 6-7 p.m. Yom Kippur 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Neilah 6-7 p.m., break-the-fast follows. No contributions accepted. Tickets not required. The Laugh Factory, 8001 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. Due to high attendance, call for reservations, (323) 656-1336, ext. 1, or email info@laughfactory.com.

Movable Minyan
Congregant-led communal services feature original and traditional song, interpretation and study sessions. Conservative prayer book used. Erev Rosh Hashanah 8-9:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah first day 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., potluck Rosh Hashanah lunch. Rosh Hashanah second day 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Kol Nidre 6:15-8:15 p.m. Yom Kippur 9:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Institute of Jewish Education, 8339 W. Third St., Los Angeles.

Rabbi Naomi Levy and the Nashuva Band lead services with transcendent music, inspirational insights and soulful prayer at four different locations: Founder’s Church, Venice Beach, Temescal Park and Brentwood Presbyterian Church. Erev Rosh Hashanah 6:45 p.m. Rosh Hashanah first day 9:30 a.m., tashlich at Venice Beach 6 p.m. Rosh Hashanah second day at Temescal Park: 8:30 a.m. coffee and pastries, 9 a.m. nature hike, 10 a.m. service. Kol Nidre 6:30 p.m. (also streaming live). Yom Kippur 9:30 a.m. Suggested $350 per person donation. Founder’s Church of Religious Science, 3281 W. 6th St., Los Angeles.

Nefesh LA
Rabbi Susan Goldberg leads services focused on pausing and stepping into a different kind of sacred time. Erev Rosh Hashanah 6:30 p.m. service at Friendship Auditorium. Rosh Hashanah 9:30 a.m. at Friendship Auditorium. Kol Nidre 6:30 p.m. at First Unitarian Church. Yom Kippur 9:30 a.m. Afternoon: Meditation, yoga, study, discussion. 3 p.m. family service with “Jonah and the Whale” play. 6:30 p.m. Neilah. Tickets for each event: adult $100, college student $54, child $36. Friendship Auditorium, 3201 Riverside Drive, Los Angeles. First Unitarian Church, 2936 W. 8th St., Los Angeles.

Sanctuary @ Pico Union
Erev Rosh Hashanah services at Sinai Temple in Westwood led by Craig Taubman, Rabbi David Wolpe and the Pico Union prayer team. Rosh Hashanah at the interfaith center in Pico-Union features uplifting services followed by community lunch. Kol Nidre includes a sound bath and concludes with meditative prayer. Yom Kippur is a day of solemn prayer, introspection and community. Prayer team includes Taubman, Rabbi Bill Kaplan, Stuart Robinson and Valerie Stern. Sept. 30-Oct. 9. $150, Rosh Hashanah pass, Kol Nidre pass, Yom Kippur pass. Pico Union Project, 1153 Valencia St., Los Angeles.

Silverlake Independent JCC
“Days of Awesome Rosh Hashanah Experience” 10 a.m. and noon lunch on Sept. 30. Tashlich on Oct. 5 at Riverfront Park, 6:30 p.m. Yom Kippur 10 a.m. service and workshops at noon. $30-$85 for Rosh Hashanah, $30-$85 Yom Kippur, $45 Tashlich. Silverlake Independent JCC, 1110 Bates Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 663-2255.

Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park
The theme of services is “Seeds of Light,” combining spiritual rebirth and a commitment to the environment. Services uses a Conservative machzor and combine ritual with the egalitarian, inclusive and eclectic feel of Highland Park. Rabbi Jason Rosner, Cantor Ken Rothstein and TBI of Highland Park members lead services. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7 p.m. Rosh Hashanah first and second days 9 a.m. Kol Nidre 6 p.m. Yom Kippur 9 a.m.. $270 adult ticket for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, $79 students and those under 21. Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock, 5711 Monte Vista St., (323) 745-2474.

Temple Israel of Hollywood
Reform congregation. Erev Rosh Hashanah 8 p.m. Rosh Hashanah first day 8:30 a.m. toddler-second grade family service (no tickets required), 10:15 a.m. sanctuary service, 10:15 a.m. minyan service, Miller Hall. Tashlich at the beach, 4 p.m. Rosh Hashanah second day 10 a.m. service (no tickets required). Kol Nidre 6 p.m. K-6th grade (no tickets required), 8 p.m. sanctuary service. Yom Kippur. 8:30 a.m. toddler-second grade family service (no tickets required), 10:15 a.m. sanctuary service, 10:15 a.m. minyan service, Miller Hall, 2 p.m. afternoon seminars, 3:15 p.m. Mincha, 5 p.m. Yizkor (no tickets required), 5:30 p.m. Neilah (no tickets required), 6:30 p.m. final blast of the shofar (no tickets required). Members’ children and young adults 23 and younger do not require tickets. General $400. Temple Israel of Hollywood, 7300 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 876-8330.

Village Synagogue
Services conducted in English and Hebrew with simultaneous insights and explanations into the prayers, practices and rituals. Advance RSVP recommended. Separate seating. Keynote Rabbi Zalmy Fogelman. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7 p.m. Rosh Hashanah first day 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m., followed by lunch. Monday evening Ma’ariv 7 p.m. Rosh Hashanah second day 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m., keynote and shofar 11:15 a.m. Kol Nidre 6:30-8:30 p.m. Yom Kippur 11 a.m.-1 p.m. $100 reserved seating.

YJP High Holidays at Sofitel
Rabbi Mendel Simons and an a capella group highlight a soulful and relatable High Holy Days experience. Organized by Young Jewish Professionals. Limited seating. Prices rise as seats fill. No one will be turned away due to lack of funds. Rosh Hashanah services $55, Yom Kippur services $105, Yom Kippur retreat $100 (includes pre-Yom Kippur refreshments and post-Yom Kippur break-fast). Sofitel Hotel, 8555 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles.


Adat Shalom
Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz and Cantor Dale Schatz lead the Conservative congregation’s services. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah first day 9 a.m., second day 9 a.m. Tashlich at Kenneth Hahn Park Oct. 6 at 10 a.m. Kol Nidre 6 p.m. Yom Kippur 9 a.m. $400 for all High Holy Days. Reduced prices for students. No tickets sold at door. Selichot open to the community. Adat Shalom, 3030 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 475-4985.

Aish Community Shul
Erev Rosh Hashanah Mincha 6:25 p.m., shiur 6:45 p.m., Ma’ariv 7 p.m. Rosh Hashanah first day Shacharit 8 a.m., shofar 10:15 a.m., Musaf 10:30 a.m., Mincha 6:25 p.m., shiur 6:45 p.m., Ma’ariv 7:15 p.m. Rosh Hashanah second day Shacharit 8 a.m., shofar 10:15 a.m., Musaf 10:30 a.m., Mincha 6:25 p.m., Ma’ariv 7:15 p.m. $250. The Community Shul, 9100 Pico Blvd. (424) 354-4130.

Aish Havtorah User-Friendly Services
 Rabbis Dov Heller, Shlomo Seidenfeld, Jack Melul, Aryeh Markman and Rebbitzen Sharon Shenker lead user-friendly services at Morry’s Place. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7:05 p.m. Rosh Hashanah first day 8:30 a.m. service, 10 a.m. breakout class, 11 a.m. shofar, 12:45 Kiddush buffet. Afternoon and evening services at Aish Center, 9100 Pico Blvd. Rosh Hashanah second day 8:30 a.m. service, 10 a.m. breakout class, 11 a.m. shofar, 12:45 p.m. Kiddush buffet. Afternoon and evening services at Aish Center. Kol Nidre 6:20 p.m. service, 8:30 p.m. class. Yom Kippur 8:30 a.m. service, 10:15 a.m. breakout class, 11:30 a.m. Yizkor, noon breakout class, 2 p.m. class, 4:30 p.m. Mincha, 6:30 p.m. Neilah. 7:10 p.m. fast ends. Break the fast. Reserved seating $100, general seating $18. Morry’s Place, 9118 Pico Blvd. (310) 278-8672, ext. 0.

Beit T’shuvah
Attend services at the Jewish rehabilitation organization. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7 p.m. Rosh Hashanah first day 9 a.m., tashlich 4 p.m. at Venice Pier. Rosh Hashanah second day 9 a.m. Kol Nidre 7 p.m. Yom Kippur 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Yizkor at noon. Tickets for guests $75 per service. Parking at Shenandoah Street School, 2450 Shenandoah St., with a shuttle to services at Beit T’Shuvah, 8847 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 204-5200.

Beth Chayim Chadashim
Join interim Rabbi Alyson Solomon and Cantor Juval Porat as they lead services for the LGBT synagogue at two different sites, BCC and Temple Isaiah. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7-10:15 p.m. at Temple Isaiah. Seder to follow. Rosh Hashanah first day 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Luncheon to follow (tickets required). Rosh Hashanah second day at BCC 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tashlich at 4:30 p.m. at Santa Monica Beach. Community dinner at private home 6-8 p.m. Kol Nidre 7:15-10 p.m. at Temple Isaiah. Yom Kippur at Temple Isaiah 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. morning service, 1:30 p.m. learning, 3 p.m. afternoon service, 5:30 p.m. Yizkor, 6:20 p.m. Neilah, 7:30 p.m. community break-fast. Rosh Hashanah first day, members $25, children (6-15) $18, guests $35. For guests all services $310, single service $140. Students, all services $250 (includes one-year membership), single service $140. Beth Chayim Chadashim, 6090 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 931-7023. bcc-la.org. Temple Isaiah, 10345 Pico Blvd. (310) 277-2772.

Beth Jacob Congregation
Erev Rosh Hashanah 6:25 p.m. Mincha-Ma’ariv. Rosh Hashanah first day 7:45 a.m. Shacharit, 6:20 p.m. Mincha-Ma’ariv, 7:18 p.m. Havdalah. Rosh Hashanah second day 7:45 a.m. Shacharit, 8 a.m., 8:30 a.m. services, 6:30 p.m. Mincha-Ma’ariv, 7:18 p.m. Havdalah. Kol Nidre 6:20 p.m. service. Yom Kippur 8:30 a.m., 9 a.m. services, 10:30 a.m. Yizkor, 4:30 p.m. Mincha, 5:45 p.m. Neilah, 7:08 p.m. Havdalah. Tickets: Men, Shapell Sanctuary $650 per seat, Bayer Hall $600 per seat, Eisenstat $600 per seat, Explanatory Minyan $155 per seat, Teen Minyan $115 per seat. Women, Shapell Sanctuary $650 per seat, Bayer Hall $600 per seat, Eisenstat $600 per seat. Beth Jacob Congregation, 9030 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 278-1911.

Beth Shir Shalom
Erev Rosh Hashanah 7 p.m. adult service and prepaid child care. Rosh Hashanah 8:30 a.m. bagels, coffee and schmooze, 9:30 a.m. adult and JELLI services and prepaid child care, 2:30 p.m. families with young children service, 4 p.m. tashlich at the beach. Kol Nidre 7 p.m. service and prepaid child care. Yom Kippur, 9:30 a.m. adult and JELLI services and prepaid child care, 12:30 p.m. guest speaker, 2 p.m. discussion of sermons with Irwin Levin, 2 p.m. circle of song and meditation, 2 p.m. families with young children service, 3:30 p.m. Neilah-Yizkor service and prepaid child care. Guests of members $165 per adult, $80 per youth ages 6-22. Adult guests $195 each, youth ages 6-22 $80 each. First-time adult and youth, $54 suggested donation. All services at Barnum Hall, Santa Monica High School, 601 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 453-3361.        

Beverly Hills Jewish Community
Sephardic Moroccan services led by Rabbi Avshalom Even-Haim and Cantor Yossi Abitbol. $150 adults, $100 young professional, $75 children ages 3-17, includes lunch and snacks. Full schedule of services emailed following ticket purchase. Traditional choral Ashkenazic services led by Rabbi Yossi Cunin with Cantor Levi Coleman and choir. $900 adults, $75 children ages 3-13. Ticket prices cover all High Holy Days services. (310) 276-4246.

Beverly Hills Temple of the Arts
Services on erev Rosh Hashanah, Rosh Hashanah, Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur. $150 per young adult ages 18-35 and Judaism by Choice students, $400 per person for guests. Temple of the Arts, 8442 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (323) 658-9100.

B’nai David-Judea
Erev Rosh Hashanah, Mincha-Ma’ariv, 6:25 p.m. Rosh Hashanah first day Shacharit 7:15 a.m., shofar 10 a.m., Mincha-Ma’ariv 5:50 p.m. Rosh Hashanah second day Shacharit 7:50 a.m., shofar 10 a.m., Mincha-Ma’ariv 5:50 p.m. Kol Nidre 6:15 p.m. Yom Kippur Shacharit 8 a.m., Yizkor 11 a.m., Mincha 4:20 p.m., Neilah 5:45 p.m. Tickets $180. B’nai David-Judea, 8906 Pico Blvd. (310) 276-9269.

Chai Center Free High Holiday Services
Erev Rosh Hashanah services 6:30-8:30 p.m., 8:30-10:30 p.m. (Jewish New Year’s Eve Party). Rosh Hashanah services 11 a.m.-2 p.m., shofar 12:45 p.m. Kol Nidre 6:30-8:30 p.m. Yom Kippur 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., “Stump the Rebbetzin” 3-5:30 p.m., Neilah 5:30-7:04 p.m. No reservations needed. Donations encouraged. Writers Guild Theater, 135 S. Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills.

Cool Shul
Cool Shul, a liberal, intimate community dedicated to creating an accepting, open-minded environment for Jewish educational and spiritual experiences, holds its musical, casual, family-friendly services in Pacific Palisades Temescal Gateway Park, Cheadle Hall. Bring much-needed items for The Peoples Concern, which houses and helps the homeless. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7 p.m. Rosh Hashanah 10 a.m.; tashlich follows immediately. Kol Nidre 7 p.m. Yom Kippur morning service 10 a.m., afternoon service 3 p.m. Break-the-fast immediately follows. Tickets: Adult (ages 13 and up) for all four services, $180 or $80 for each of the four services. Children (12 and under) $80 for all four services or $20 for each service. Pacific Palisades Temescal Gateway Park, 15601Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 745-4578.

Creative Arts Temple
Rabbis Jerry Cutler, Herb Freed, Cantor Elizabeth Cohn, soloist Tanja Solnik and the Eclectic Electric CAT Choir conducted by Gary Nesteruk lead awe-inspiring services. Erev Rosh Hashanah 8 p.m. Rosh Hashanah 10 a.m. Tashlich by the sea Oct. 1 at 11 a.m. at 13813 Fiji Way, Marina del Rey. Kol Nidre 8 p.m., Yom Kippur 10 a.m. Students free with college ID. Tickets included with temple membership. Westwood United Methodist Church, 10497 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (818) 855-1301.

Erev Rosh Hashanah. 6-8:15 p.m. service. Rosh Hashanah first day. 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m. service. Rosh Hashanah second day 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m. service. Kol Nidre 5:45 p.m. service. Yom Kippur. 9 a.m. service, 7:45 p.m. break-fast. Tickets for non-members: $400 all services, $285 Rosh Hashanah only or Yom Kippur only, $350 for children 2-12. Free services: Main sanctuary, Erev Rosh Hashanah, second day of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur after 2 p.m., and family-friendly services. All services at Shalhevet High School, 910 S. Fairfax Ave. IKAR, 1737 S. La Cienega Blvd. (323)634-1870.

Inclusive High Holy Days Services
Rabbi Jackie Redner, rabbi-in-residence at Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services, leads services designed for children of all abilities. Quiet space available. Volunteers and staff on hand. Donations welcome. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7 p.m. Rosh Hashanah day 10 a.m. Kol Nidre 7 p.m. Yom Kippur day 10 a.m., Yizkor-Neilah 4 p.m. 3200 Motor Ave., Los Angeles. To RSVP, call (310) 836-1223 ext. 395 or email lorenschwartz@vistadelmar.org. 

Kahal Joseph Congregation
Sephardic synagogue in the Westwood area holds erev Rosh Hashanah at 5:45 p.m., Rosh Hashanah first day at 8 a.m., second day at 8 a.m., Kol Nidre at 6 p.m. and Yom Kippur at 7 a.m. $300 adult tickets, $150 teens and college students. Kahal Joseph Congregation, 10505 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-0559.

Kehillat Israel
Services at Kehillat Israel (KI) and the Westwood Village (WV) Theatre. Erev Rosh Hashanah 5:30 p.m. family service at KI, 7:30 p.m. WV. Rosh Hashanah first day 10 a.m. morning service (Sanctuary), 10:30 a.m. alternative multigenerational service (Social Hall), 9 a.m. early service WV, late service 12:30 p.m. WV, 4:30 p.m. tot service KI. Rosh Hashanah second day 10 a.m. KI (no ticket required). Kol Nidre 5:30 p.m. family service KI, 7:30 p.m. evening service KI, 7:30 p.m. evening service WV. Yom Kippur. 10 a.m. (Sanctuary), 10:30 a.m. alternative multigenerational service (Social Hall), 9 a.m. early service WV, 12:30 p.m. late service WV, 2:30 congregational study KI, 4 p.m. mincha KI, 4:30 p.m. guest speaker KI, 5 p.m. Yizkor KI, 6:15 p.m. Neilah KI. No tickets required for the following services and events: 4 p.m. mincha WV, 4:30 p.m. guest speaker WV., 5 p.m. Yizkor WV, 5:30 p.m. Neilah WV. $600 general at Westwood Village Theatre. $600 alternative multigenerational services, Social Hall.  Westwood Village Theatre, 961 Broxton Ave., Los Angeles.  Kehillat Israel, 16019 W. Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 459-2328.

Kehillat Ma’arav
All services for the Conservative congregation are in the Grand Ballroom of the Olympic Collection. Erev Rosh Hashanah. 7 p.m. Rosh Hashanah first day. 9 a.m. services, 5 p.m. tashlich. Rosh Hashanah second day. 9 a.m. Kol Nidre 6 p.m. Yom Kippur 9 a.m. service, 3:30 p.m. study, 4:30 p.m. Mincha, 5:30 p.m. Neilah. Guests $250. The Olympic Collection, 11301 Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 829-0566.

Metivta: A Center for Contemplative Judaism
Led by Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, prayer leader Evelyn Baran and Cantor Marc Bachrach, the inclusive services feature eclectic prayer, contemplation, chanting, teaching, movement and silence. Tickets $325 for all services. Various prices for individual services. Erev Rosh Hashanah 8:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah first day 9 a.m.-2 p.m.  Rosh Hashanah second day 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Kol Nidre 6-8:30 p.m. Yom Kippur 9:30 a.m.-7:15 p.m. Santa Monica Synagogue, 1448 18th St., Santa Monica.

Mishkon Tephilo
Erev Rosh Hashanah 6:30 p.m. free service. Rosh Hashanah first day 9 a.m.-1:15 p.m. service, 9-9:45 a.m. free Mini-Mishkon Tot Service, 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Camp Machaneh (grades 2-6), noon-1p.m. free family/youth service, noon free Spiritual Sidetrips. Rosh Hashanah second day 9:45 a.m.-1:15 p.m. free service, 11 a.m. shofar service. Oct. 6: 4-6 p.m. tashlich and beach picnic, Lifeguard Station 28. Kol Nidre 6-8:30 p.m. service. Yom Kippur 9 a.m.-3 p.m. service, 9-9:45 a.m. free Mini-Mishkon Tot Service; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Camp Machaneh (grades 2-6), 11:30 a.m. Yizkor, 12:45 p.m. and 3-5 p.m. free Spiritual Sidetrips, 5-6 p.m. free family service, 5:30 p.m. Mincha, 6 p.m. Neilah, 7:30 p.m. shofar. 7:35-8:15 p.m. break the fast. Everyone must register for services. No walk-ins allowed. Contact office or see website for tickets. Mishkon Tephilo, 206 N. Main St., Venice. (310) 392-3029.

Nessah Synagogue
Founded by Rabbi David Shofet and the Iranian Jews of Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, Nessah Synagogue upholds the traditions and customs of Iranian Jews according to Orthodox, Sephardic halachah. Erev Rosh Hashanah 6 p.m. Mincha, sermon, arvit. Rosh Hashanah first day 9 a.m. Shacharit, 10:15 a.m. Hotza’at Sefer Torah, 11:45  a.m. sermon, 12:15 p.m. shofar, 5:30 p.m. Mincha and tashlich followed by sermon and arvit. Rosh Hashanah second day 9 a.m. Shacharit ,10:15 a.m. Hotza’at Sefer Torah, 11:30 a.m. sermon, noon shofar, 6:30 p.m. Mincha, 7:23 p.m. Rosh Hashanah ends. Kol Nidre 7:05 p.m. service followed by arvit, 8:50 p.m. sermon. Yom Kippur 8 a.m. Shacharit, 10:45 a.m. Hotza’at Sefer Torah, noon sermon, 2:45 p.m. Mincha, 5:15 p.m. sermon, 5:45 p.m. Neilah, 7:13 p.m. shofar, fast ends, arvit. Tickets: Membership fees have been reduced to a range of  $100-$225 per member. Free holiday tickets with membership. Nessah Synagogue, 124 S. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 273-2400.

N’vay Shalom
Services Sept. 29, Sept. 30, Oct. 8 and Oct. 9 at 5249 S. Sepulveda, Culver City. For ticket information (323) 547-2286 or email nvayshlm@hotmail.com. 

Ohr Ha Torah
Rabbi Mordechai Finley and rabbinic intern Yeshaia Blakeney lead services with cantorial music by Jacob Kantor and Susie Miller. Services at Wilshire Ebell Theatre except for second day of Rosh Hashanah at Ohr HaTorah. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah first day 8:30 a.m. Rosh Hashanah second day 10 a.m. (free). Kol Nidre 7:30 p.m. Yom Kippur 8:30 a.m. service, 1 p.m. rabbi’s first study session, 2:30 p.m. musical presentation at Ohr Ha Torah, 4 p.m. rabbi’s second study session, 5 p.m. Yizkor, 6 p.m. Neilah. Tickets: All services: age 40 and over, $200; ages 30-39, $110; young adults, 20-29, $50; children and teens, $55. Both Rosh Hashanah services only: ages 40 and over, $150; ages 30-39, $90. Erev Rosh Hashanah: ages 40 and over, $100, ages 30-39, $75. Rosh Hashanah day only: ages 40 and over, $100; ages 30-39, $75. Both Yom Kippur services only: ages 40 and over, $100; ages 30-39, $75. Yom Kippur Eve and Yom Kippur Day: ages 40 and over, $100 each service; ages 30-39, $75 each service. Wilshire Ebell Theatre, 4401 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Ohr Ha Torah, 11827 Venice Blvd., Mar Vista. (310) 915-5200.

Open Temple
High Holy Days at Open Temple are the Jewish Burning Man, Bhaktifest, yoga class, Kirtan chant, hike in the hills, meditation on a mountain and juice fast combined. And through each of these experiences, we seek a reconnection with self. Erev Rosh Hashanah 4 p.m. family service, 7 p.m. community service and kabbalistic kirtan. Rosh Hashanah 10 a.m. service, 1 p.m. tashlich, 4 p.m. family service. Kol Nidre  7 p.m. service. Yom Kippur 10 a.m. service, 4 p.m. family service, 6 p.m. Neilah service. All-access pass $490. Family fast pass (all family services) $100. Various per-service prices. Open Temple, 1422 Electric Ave., Venice. (310) 821-1414.

Pacific Jewish Center
The Pacific Jewish Center, established in the late 1970s, opens onto the beach, hence its nickname, Shul on the Beach. Erev Rosh Hashanah 6:30 p.m. service. Rosh Hashanah first day 8:30 a.m. service. Rosh Hashanah second day 8:30 a.m. service. Kol Nidre 3:30 p.m. Mincha, 6:15 p.m. service. Yom Kippur 9:30 a.m. service. Guests $300.

Pico Shul/Happy Minyan Days of Awesome Service
Two synagogues in Pico — Pico Shul and Happy Minyan — join forces for an awesome High Holy Days experience. Multiple services, programs and classes take place. Pico Shul services led by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, Chazanim Tuli Skaist and Yehuda Prero and the Maccabeards. Happy Minyan services led by Yehuda Solomon, Jeff Rohatiner, Jon Hoenig and David Sacks. Pico Shul Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur young professionals (18-35), $72 each. Reserved seating (36 and over) for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, $125, each. Happy Minyan Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, $216 each. Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, 9210 Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. (424) 777-0999. happyminyan.org/high-holidays-tix

Santa Monica Synagogue
Intimate Reform congregation holds services: erev Rosh Hashanah 7:30 p.m., Rosh Hashanah 10 a.m., tashlich on the beach 4 p.m. at Tower 26, Kol Nidre 7:30 p.m., Yom Kippur 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., Yizkor and concluding service 5 p.m. Film and discussion at 1 p.m. Oct. 9. $225. Santa Monica Synagogue, 1448 18th St., Santa Monica. (310) 453-4276.

Sinai Temple
Erev Rosh Hashanah Live Service is a musical celebration with Rabbi David Wolpe, Craig Taubman and Cantor Marcus Feldman. 8 p.m. Open to the community. Rosh Hashanah first and second days services: various times. Kol Nidre 6 p.m. Yom Kippur services: various times. During the High Holy Days, specially designed programming is available for students ages 3-18. All student activities end at the conclusion of adult services. Every child must have a ticket. Oct. 6. 4 p.m.: Tashlich at the beach, meeting at Casa del Mar, at the end of the boardwalk in Santa Monica. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd. (310) 474-1518. For ticket prices and service times, visit sinaitemple.org. For Atid young professionals High Holy Days services, click on the link above.

Sholem Community
The Sholem Community stresses the historic, cultural and ethical aspects of Jewish tradition. Rosh Hashanah day 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Bring a picnic lunch for yourself and a dessert to share to Cheviot Hills Park, Picnic Area 1, 2551 Motor Ave., one block south of Pico Boulevard, behind the Rec Center. Kol Nidre 7:30 p.m. at the New Roads School at the Herb Alpert Educational Center, Moss Theater, 3131 Olympic Blvd., Santa Monica. Yom Kippur 11 a.m.-1 p.m., family-friendly discussion of ethics in our daily lives at Cheviot Hills Park, Picnic Area 1. Tickets only required for Kol Nidre: supporters, $200; adult members, $70; student and senior members, $65, general adult, $90; general student and seniors, $80. (310) 384-7534.

Temple Akiba
Erev Rosh Hashanah 5 p.m. family service, 7:30 p.m. service. Rosh Hashanah 10 a.m. serivice. Kol Nidre 7:30 p.m. service. Yom Kippur 10 a.m. morning service, 3:30 p.m. afternoon Yizkor service. Non-Akiba members contact Temple Akiba for ticket price information. Services held at Veterans Memorial Auditorium, 4117 Overland Ave., Culver City. Children’s Rosh Hashanah service at 3 p.m. Sept. 30 held at Temple Akiba, 5249 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City. (310) 398-5783.

Temple Beth Am
Rabbis Adam Kligfeld, Rebecca Schatz and Cantor Hillary Chorny lead services. Erev Rosh Hashanah 6:15 p.m., one combined service. Rosh Hashanah first and second days services at various times. Kol Nidre 6 p.m. Yom Kippur services at various times. Erev Rosh Hashanah service is free. Email ashane@tbala.org to reserve a ticket for that service.  Otherwise, tickets for nonmembers: $450 adults, $200 students. Everyone 13 and above must have a ticket. 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles.

Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills
Erev Rosh Hashanah 7:30-9 p.m. Rosh Hashanah day family service 8:45 a.m.-10:30 a.m., adult service 8:45 a.m.-11:20 a.m., tashlich (open to all) 5 p.m. at Pacific Coast Highway and Temescal Canyon. Rosh Hashanah second day 9 a.m.-noon. Kol Nidre family service 6:15-8 p.m., adult services 6:15-8:30 p.m., 9-11 p.m. Yom Kippur family service 8:45-10:30 a.m., Yom Kippur adult service with Yizkor 8:45-11:20 a.m., Contemporary Issues Forum 2:45-4:15 p.m., “Getting Good at Getting Older” with Rabbi Laura Geller 4:30-5:15 p.m., Neilah 6-7 p.m. Single-service guest tickets $100 for each individual service. All-services guest tickets $350. Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, 300 N. Clark Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 409-4653.

Temple Isaiah
Erev Rosh Hashanah 7:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah day one family service 8:30 a.m., morning service 11:15 a.m. Kol Nidre 7:30 p.m. Yom Kippur family service 8:30 a.m., morning service 11:15 a.m.  Prices per service: adults, $165; students, children under 25 and seniors, $80. Erev Rosh Hashanah held at UCLA Schoenberg Hall. For more information, call (310) 277-2772 or click on the link above.

UCLA Hillel
Liberal, traditional and Orthodox services. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7 p.m. Rosh Hashanah day one 9:30 a.m., day two 9:30 a.m. Kol Nidre 6:15 p.m. Yom Kippur 9:30 a.m., Neilah 6 p.m., shofar sounded at 7:04 p.m. with a light break-fast to follow. Community tickets: all-inclusive, $285 online, Rosh Hashanah (erev and day one), $180; day two free to all; Yom Kippur (Kol Nidre and daytime), $180. Parent/faculty/young adult tickets: all-inclusive, $185 online; Rosh Hashanah (erev and day one), $136; Rosh Hashanah (day two) free; Yom Kippur (Kol Nidre and daytime), $136. Students attend free with registration and school ID. Walk-ins welcome; prepaid ticket holders receive priority seating. 574 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-3081.

University Synagogue
Activate your Jewish New Year at University Synagogue with renewed focus and intention. A selection of service options offered. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7:30 pm. main service (sanctuary), 7:30 p.m. alternative service (chapel). Rosh Hashanah 8:30 a.m. young families servuce, 10:30 a.m. main service, 3 p.m. tashlich at Will Rogers State Beach. Kol Nidre 7:30 p.m. main service (sanctuary), 7:30 p.m. alternative service (chapel). Yom Kippur 8:30 a.m. young families service (sanctuary), 10:30 a.m. main service (sanctuary), 2:30 p.m. Yizkor and Neilah. Tickets for all services: $500 for adults ages 27-64; $300 for seniors 64-plus and young adults ages 14-26. Most individual single-service tickets are $100-$136. Yizkor and Neilah, $18-$36. University Synagogue, 11960 Sunset Blvd. (310) 472-1255 or email membership@unisyn.org.

Vital Transformation
The spiritual Orthodox community in Pico-Robertson only charges admission for erev Rosh Hashanah, but participants in all services must RSVP and have tickets. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7 p.m. Rosh Hashanah first day 9:15 a.m. service followed by lunch. Rosh Hashanah second day 9:15 a.m. Kol Nidre 6:30 p.m. Yom Kippur 9:15 a.m. service. $72 for Erev Rosh Hashanah. Obtain tickets by emailing debbyjian@gmail.com or calling (561) 400-7796. The address provided upon RSVP.

Westwood Village Synagogue
Westwood Village Synagogue is a warm, intimate, and welcoming modern Orthodox community in the heart of Westwood Village (upstairs from Peet’s Coffee). Services feature a creative blend of traditional Ashkenazi melodies and modern-day Israeli tunes, timely sermons and teachings by Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, and an inclusive approach to women’s participation in prayer within the parameters of Orthodox tradition. Rosh Hashanah services begin both days at 8:30 a.m. Kol Nidre 6:10 pm. Yom Kippur 8:45 a.m. (with a two-hour break). Tickets $300 per adult; children under 18 free. Space is limited. RSVP to eventswvs@gmail.com or click on the link.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple
Erev Rosh Hashanah at Glazer Campus 4:30 p.m. family service, 5 p.m. adult (unreserved seating), 8 p.m. adult (reserved seating). Rosh Hashanah first day 8:45 a.m. (adult unreserved), 9 a.m. nursery school, 9 a.m. family service (grades K-2), 10:30 a.m. Koleinu, 11:30 a.m. adult (reserved seating), 2:30 p.m. family service (grades 3-5). Tashlich, before or after any service at Tashlich fountains. Rosh Hashanah second day at Irmas Campus 10 a.m. Kol Nidre at Glazer Campus 5 p.m. adult (unreserved), 7:30 p.m. Koleinu, 8 p.m. adult (reserved). Yom Kippur 8:45 a.m. adult (unreserved), 9 a.m. nursery school, 9 a.m. family service (grades K-2). 10:30 a.m. Koleinu, 11:30 a.m. adult (reserved), 2:30 p.m. family service (grades 3-5), 4-6:15 p.m. Mincha, Yizkor, Neilah and Havdalah. Members, no charge. Guests, reserved seating $400 per service. General unreserved seating $250 per service. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Glazer Campus, 3663 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, and Irmas Campus 11661 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 388-1401.


Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center
Erev Rosh Hashanah 7:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah first day 9 a.m. Family service and tashlich 4:15 p.m. Kol Nidre 7:30 p.m. Yom Kippur. 9 a.m. services, 2 p.m. meditation session, 4 p.m. study session, 5 p.m. Mincha, 6 p.m. Neilah, 7:30 p.m. Havdalah. Tickets for guests, $375. Children under 13 free. Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, 1434 N. Altadena Drive, Pasadena. (626)798-1161.

Temple Sinai of Glendale
Reform congregation serving Glendale, Burbank, Pasadena and the Foothills holds erev Rosh Hashanah at 8 p.m. Rosh Hashanah 10 a.m. service, 3 p.m. family service, 4 p.m. tashlich. Kol Nidre 8 p.m. service. Yom Kippur 10 a.m. morning service, 2 p.m. family service, 3:30 p.m. afternoon service, 5 p.m. Yizkor, 6 p.m. Neilah. Break the fast at 6:30 p.m. $175-$1,500. Free for students, active military and Temple Sinai of Glendale teachers. Temple Sinai of Glendale, 1212 N. Pacific Ave., Glendale. (818) 246-8101.


Congregation Tikvat Jacob Beth Torah
Join Congregation Tikvat Jacob (CTJ) for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Free family services on erev Rosh Hashanah, Rosh Hashanah first day and Yom Kippur, all at 3 p.m. The tashlich service on Rosh Hashanah at 5 p.m. on the Manhattan Beach Pier is open to the public. Service locations: American Martyrs Parish Hall, 1701 Laurel Ave., Manhattan Beach. CTJ, 1829 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Manhattan Beach. (310) 546-3667 or office@cjtmb.org for tickets information.

Temple Emet
Warm, inviting, musical and spiritual services led Rabbi Cantor Didi Thomas. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah day 10:30 a.m. Tashlich on the Redondo Beach Pier, behind Kincaids, 4 p.m. Kol Nidre 7:30 p.m. Yom Kippur 10:30 a.m. The service concludes with Yizkor and Neilah. Break-the-fast potluck 7 p.m. (310) 316-3322.

Kever Avot Services Sun. Oct. 6

Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries
Rabbi Samuel Rotenberg and Cantor Marcus Feldman lead services. In Hollywood Hills, they are joined by the Sinai Temple Choir, under the direction of Aryell Cohen, and in Simi Valley, they are joined by the UJA Choir, under the direction of Noreen Green. They sing music and prayers in Hebrew and English. No tickets required. All who are remembering loved ones, whether at Mount Sinai or far away, are invited. 10 a.m., Mount Sinai Hollywood Hills, 5950 Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles. 1 p.m., Mount Sinai Simi Valley, 6150 Mount Sinai Drive, Simi Valley. (323) 769-1325.

Hillside Memorial Parks and Mortuary
Rabbi Karen Fox of Wilshire Boulevard Temple and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion leads services. Joining her are Calvin Dox-DaCosta, Cantorial Soloist Shelley Fox, Rabbi-Cantor Alison Wissot and Kreith Spencer-Shapiro. Musical accompaniment. Park open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. A florist will be onsite, and a shomer, courtesy of Hillside, will be available to assist with kaddish. Refreshments served. 10 a.m. Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary, 6001 W. Centinela Ave., Los Angeles. (800) 576-1994.

Can Food Transform Your New Year?

David Suissa and Paula Shoyer
Just in time for Rosh Hashanah, food author Paula Shoyer has some great ideas to elevate your High Holidays.

Follow David Suissa on FacebookTwitter and Instagram

Pomegranate Napkin Holders for Rosh Hashanah

I’m often asked if all the little details at a dinner party like place cards and napkin holders are really necessary. After all, people are coming for food and conversation, not your table settings. But I’m a big believer in these extra touches. When people come to my home to share a meal, they’ve probably had to fight traffic to get there. Maybe they had to hire a baby-sitter. Or even had to give up a night of Netflix. Putting in the extra effort honors their presence and shows my gratitude. So it’s not about “Look what I did,” but “Look how much I appreciate you for coming.”

Of course, who has time to worry about these things when they’re also cooking? That’s why these easy napkin holders topped with paper pomegranates are so great.  They take very little time to put together, and it’s a fun task to delegate to the kids. 

What you’ll need:
Construction paper or cardstock
Glue stick

1. Cut a 1 1/2-by-6-inch piece of construction paper or cardstock. While you can choose red paper, feel free to use creative license and make your pomegranates in various colors. With a glue stick, adhere the ends together to create a ring. 

2. Cut a 6-by-6-inch square using the same paper. Fold the paper in half and then in quarters. You’ll then have four 3-by-3-inch squares stacked on top of each other. Fold one more time, and you’ll have a 3-by-1 1/2-inch stack.

3. On the folded edge, cut out half a pomegranate shape. This will be similar to cutting out a heart shape, but on the bottom instead of being pointed, it will be rounded. You will now have four pomegranate shapes that are folded in half.

4. Glue the backs of the your pomegranate cutouts to each other. Your pomegranate will have four sides, each with a fold in the middle.

5. Cut out a crown shape that is about 3/4ths of an inch wide with the same paper. Choose which side of the pomegranate will be the front and which will be the back. Glue the crown to the top of the pomegranate that will be the back. 

6. Glue the pomegranate to the ring with the crown on the inside, pressing the two halves of the back pomegranate onto the ring to secure it. Wait until the glue is dry before inserting a rolled napkin into the ring.

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at jonathanfongstyle.com.

Shomrei Torah Synagogue Picks Apples for Rosh Hashanah

Granny Smith apples piled into a box beside a U-Press apple-cider making station; Photos by Ryan Torok

Early Sunday morning on Sept. 15, families from Shomrei Torah Synagogue’s (STS) religious school in West Hills got up bright and early to drive 90 miles to San Bernardino’s Oak Glen Farms orchard to pick apples in time for Rosh Hashanah.

At the orchard, a band played country music and the families enjoyed the attractions, including a bakery selling apple turnovers, cinnamon rolls and other pastries behind a glass display. Nearby, at an area marked “U-Press,” people carried buckets filled with red and green apples to apple presses designed in the 1930s, grinding their fruit into cider with the help of an enthusiastic employee who explained that the “Blossom to Bottle” cider fermented and turned into hard cider if shelved for 10 years.

Before heading out into the orchard, Sharon Furman-Lee, director of STS’s religious school, told the families, “One of the primary reasons we use an apple on Rosh Hashanah is because of its sweetness.” 

Furman-Lee, who originally is from Ramat Gan, added that apples have healing properties, hence the aphorism, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” She then passed around apples for the students to smell, explaining you can tell if the fruit is ripe by its aroma.

Furman-Lee also offered up obscure apple trivia, including that the first apple tree was found in what is now the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan; European colonists were responsible for bringing apples to America; and today there are more than 7,005 apple varieties.

She also said there is no consensus over whether it was actually an apple in the biblical story of the Garden of Eden. Some believe it was an etrog, while others believe it was a fig. She explained that apples are mentioned in Solomon’s Song of Songs, saying the consumption of apples is a sign of one’s love for God. 

“Sharon Furman-Lee offered up obscure apple trivia, including that the first apple tree was found in what is now the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan; European colonists were responsible for bringing apples to America; and today there are more than 7,005 apple varieties.”

Furman-Lee then sent the children and their families into the orchard on a scavenger hunt, asking them to locate and photograph different kinds of apples: all yellow, all green, all red and all three colors, as well as apples that were as small as a grape, as large as a watermelon and had a funny shape. One of the youngest students in the K-7 crowd took the final instruction as her cue to find an apple that resembled a butt. 

Sharon Furman-Lee, director of the Shomrei Torah Synagogue religious school. Photo by Ryan Torok

Walking in the orchard with her children, a mother noted bruised, squishy apples littering the ground. “Do we have to find any rotten apples? Because I see a bunch,” she said.

One child remarked, “We need apples that are the shape of a cucumber.” 

Furman-Lee pointed out trees lacking leaves allowed sunlight to hit the fruit and ripen it. Meanwhile, students observed apples hanging from the trees that had worms inside, along with those that had rotted on the ground and were surrounded by bees.

In the afternoon, a tractor attached to a flatbed with benches made of hay pulled up, offering rides for those that wanted to head to a shaded area, where adjacent stands sold shaved ice, cold lemonade and old-fashioned soda pop with no caffeine.

The off-the-beaten-path pre-Rosh Hashanah educational experience continued at STS on Sept. 17, with the students baking the apples they’d picked into strudel and jam. Recalling the biblical commandment to give 10% of one’s income to the poor, they used 10% of their picked apples to bake, Furman-Lee said.

Furman-Lee, who is studying for her doctorate in education, said she is committed to finding unique educational experiences for children. She said the eagerness of STS families to participate in the event was evidence of the creative approaches to community at STS and the willingness of the synagogue’s administration to nurture her ideas.

“The experience doesn’t just have to be in the synagogue,” she said. “It’s about thinking outside the box and doing things that are unique and new for the community.”

Sweet New Year Recipes From Molly Yeh

Whether she’s planning menus for her family or her Food Network series, “Girl Meets Farm,” Molly Yeh likes to work backward. “I usually start with the dessert, because that’s what gets me the most excited,” she said. 

Yeh also has a soft spot for challah, the first of her Jewish mother’s recipes (her father is Chinese American), which she learned to make when she moved out on her own. Just in time for Rosh Hashanah, she shared two recipes that will get your New Year off to a sweet start.

Baked Challah French Toast
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup whole milk
2/3 cup part-skim or whole-milk ricotta
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 large eggs
1 lemon, zested and juiced
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
12 thick-sliced (3/4- to 1-inch) day-old challah bread slices
1 cup frozen blueberries
Powdered sugar, for serving

Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg in a small bowl and mix to combine. Set aside.

In a large bowl, add the milk, ricotta, vanilla, salt, eggs and lemon zest. Whisk to combine and set aside.

Pour the melted butter in a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish. Dip each slice of bread lightly in the egg mixture and shingle the bread in the casserole dish, sprinkling a large pinch of the sugar mixture on each layer.

Pour the remaining egg mixture on top of the bread and then pour the remaining sugar mixture on top. Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate for at least 6 hours and up to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Bake the casserole for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until the custard is set and the bread is golden brown, an additional 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the blueberries and lemon juice to a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the berries burst and thicken and the sauce begins to bubble, about 15 minutes.

When ready to serve, spoon blueberries over the center of the casserole and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Molly Yeh’s Chocolate Sea Salt Rugelach , as seen on Girl Meets Farm, Season 3.

Chocolate Sea Salt Rugelach
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup unsalted butter, cubed and cold
8 ounces cream cheese, straight from the fridge
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract, optional
Egg wash (1 large egg beaten with splash of water)
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips or chopped chocolate
Flaky salt, for sprinkling
Sprinkles, sanding sugar or turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

Combine the flour, granulated sugar and salt in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.

Add the cubed butter, distributing it all over the top of the dry ingredients, then dollop in cream cheese (1-inch dollops should do it, but it doesn’t need to be perfect).

Turn on mixer at low speed and mix until the ingredients are mostly mealy and there are still some larger clumps of butter and cream cheese intact.

With the mixer still running, add the egg yolks, vanilla and almond extract, if using, then continue mixing until the dough comes together.

Divide the dough in half and shape into 2 discs. Wrap each tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, stirring constantly, or in a microwaveable bowl in 30-second increments, stirring after each. Set aside to cool briefly while you roll out the dough.

Make the egg wash. Roll out a dough disc on lightly floured surface, dusting with flour as needed to prevent it from sticking, until it is a wide rectangle, 18-by-9-inches.

Use an offset spatula to spread half of the chocolate over dough in a thin even layer, leaving a 1-inch border along the long edge that’s farthest from you. (Try to work quickly so the chocolate doesn’t harden.)

Brush the border with a thin layer of egg wash. Starting on the long end closest to you, roll the dough into a long, tight log, then place it seam-side down on a cutting board or baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough and chocolate.

Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days (depending on fridge space, you might want to cut the log in half so there are four shorter logs instead of two long ones; wrap in plastic if refrigerating for longer than 1 hour).

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Brush logs with thin layer of egg wash, then sprinkle with a few pinches of flaky salt and lots of sprinkles or sanding sugar.

Cut into 1 1/2-inch slices and transfer to the baking sheets, spacing them 1 inch apart.

Bake until golden brown on top, about 24 minutes. (You might notice that the cookies seem to sweat and leak some fat while in the oven; this is completely normal.)

Let cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, or enjoy them warm! Fully cooled cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for several days.

“Girl Meets Farm” airs at 11 a.m. Sundays on Food Network. The “Jewish New Year” episode premieres Sept. 22.