TAYLORSVILLE - Solemn prayer and the blowing of a ram's horn at sundown tonight will herald the beginning of the Jewish New Year in Carroll and around the world.
Tomorrow marks first day of the lunar month of Tishri, the start of the year 5751.
Al Stein, 67, cantor for Beth Shalom (House of Peace) in Taylorsville, Carroll's first and only Jewish congregation, explained the significance of the High Holy Days, or "Days of Awe."
To the Jewish people, the beginning of a new year is not a time for revelry, but a period of deep religious significance, Stein said.
At Selihot, on the Saturday before Rosh Hashana, the cantor leads worshipers in prayers of penitence.
Orthodox and Conservative Jews celebrate Rosh Hashana (head of the year) on the first and second day of Tishri -- the first month of the Hebrew calendar -- as the shofar, or ram's horn, signals the call for repentance. More liberal Reform and Israeli Jews observe a one-day holiday.
"We pray two days to God to forgive sins, followed by 10 days of penitence," Stein said.
Yom Kippur, or "Day of Atonement," the holiest day of the Jewish year, occurs on the 10th day of Tishri and concludes the "Ten Days of Return." Yom Kippur, the day of reconciliation with God and with man, is marked by fasting, prayer and abstention from all manner of work.
It's customary to wear white, signifying purity, Stein said.
Two scrolls with the Five Books of Moses are removed from the Ark at the head of the sanctuary. Congregants rise and the cantor sings the introductory prayer, Kol Nidre, three times in a petition to God asking Him to cancel vows made to Him in the coming year that they may not be able to keep, Stein said. One long blast of the shofar concludes the Yom Kippur observance.
Sukkoth, the Feast of the Tabernacles, is an eight-day autumn harvest celebration commemorating the period the Jews wandered in the wilderness and is celebrated for eight days, starting on the 15th day of Tishri.
Stein, of Randallstown, Baltimore County, who with his wife, Selma, owns and operates a wholesale cleaning business, leads the friendly, close-knit Beth Shalom congregation.
"I'm a Conservative cantor, not an ordained rabbi," he said.
As spiritual leader, he leads the congregation in prayer before God, conducts funerals and unveilings -- the uncovering of the memorial stone 11 months after a person dies -- but only assists the rabbi in performing weddings. He said much preparation is needed to lead the various prayers he must recite during the High Holy Days.
Trained in religious education and music at Beth Tfiloh Hebrew School in Baltimore, Stein became a student cantor at age 12. He continued to study voice under Elwood Gary, a Metropolitan Opera singer from Baltimore. Stein has sung professionally and entertained at Catholic and Protestant functions in Baltimore and elsewhere.
One of Stein's most joyous duties, he said, is teaching young people in preparation for their entrance into Jewish life.
"I'm on my 20th student to be confirmed for Bar Mitzvah (boys) or Bat Mitzvah (girls)," he said.
Stein chants the Hebrew Psalms without accompaniment in a rich, expressive voice, which combines talent, years of study and dedicated practice.
The congregation follows his lead, along with that of assistant leader, Gabbai Stephen Lebson, often joining in the joyful, melodic verses from the Biblical books of Psalms, Deuteronomy, Leviticus and Numbers found in the Sacred Festival and Prayer Service Book.
"Beth Shalom plans to initiate a Saturday morning service once a month after the holidays, hoping this will push us toward full service," Stein said.
Regular synagogue services, led by Lebson, are Fridays at 8 p.m.; Sunday school meets at 7 p.m.
Meanwhile, near Westminster, another Jewish group is attempting to re-establish itself.
Although the congregation is presently inactive, Jamie Wehler, president of the B'nai Israel Reformed Congregation of Carroll County, said she and Alan Seigel of Eldersburg, who co-leads the congregation, hope for a revival of the body, which was started 11 years ago.
"At this point, we have about seven families," she said.
Wehler attributes the decline to people moving and the deaths of some members.
Members from other synagogues banded together, meeting in the educational wing of the First United Presbyterian Church on Washington Road in Westminster.
"Now the children are nearly grown, which tends to make people less active," she said.
During the interim, members worship in Baltimore, Columbia in Howard County, or Frederick.
Wehler, supervisor for the Bureau of Support Enforcement at the Department of Social Services in Westminster, attends the 250-member Conservative Beth Shalom Congregation in Frederick with her husband, Michael, and son, Geoff, 17.
She said the Reform branch of the Jewish faith gives "more freedom to structure services and observe as you see fit."
"The Reform takes down the gender barriers," she said. "I can say the prayers my father said, and my husband sometimes lights the Sabbath candles, usually done by the woman.
"In some Reform congregations, there is less Hebrew. In our B'nai group, we do a lot in Hebrew and then again in English."
To commemorate the Jewish New Year, the following High Holy Day and Sukkoth services are scheduled at Beth Shalom synagogue in Taylorsville: * Rosh Hashana -- 7 p.m. today, 10 a.m. Thursday, 10 a.m. Friday.
* Yom Kippur -- 6:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 28; 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.
to sundown Saturday, Sept. 29.
* Sukkoth -- 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 5.
Admission to the High Holy Day services is by ticket only. Call Stephen Lebson at 521-4823.
Copyright The Baltimore Sun 1990