Ancient holy day marked with nod to recent history Rosh Hashana rites note peace accord

September 16, 1993|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

L'shanah Tovah.

Or, happy new year: No. 5754 as of sundown yesterday, according to the world's Jews.

Last evening marked the beginning of Rosh Hashana, not just a celebration of the birth of the world, but a holy time for believers to contemplate their lives, seek forgiveness from God and commit to change for the better.

"It's a cleansing that goes back to biblical days," said Mike Zabner, 60, who works for a local furniture store. "You turn a new page in your life."

At Baltimore's Bolton Street Synagogue, where Mr. Zabner was one of about 150 who gathered for Rosh Hashana services last night, Rabbi Amy Scheinerman used the startling new page of history written this week in Washington to challenge her congregation.

On Monday, two once mortal enemies, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, made peace with a handshake.

"Did you ever think you would live to see Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shaking hands on the lawn of the White House?" asked Rabbi Scheinerman. "Did you ever think you would live to see peace in the Middle East? The impossible has happened. The inconceivable may soon be a reality."

If such a thing is possible after generations of hatred and murder -- if, the rabbi said, 5754 will be the year when fear is consumed by peace and pain is dissolved by justice -- how can we fail to seek peace within ourselves, our families, and our neighborhoods?

Over and over again, the rabbi told those inside the converted 19th century Protestant church: "Let us declare a new motto for the Holy Days: 'If Rabin and Arafat can do it, so can we.' "

Cantor, Alan J. Rubenstein, 39, who used music ranging from ancient chants to 1960s folk tunes for the service, said he understands the holiday as a renewal.

"It's a chance to set goals and dreams for the future with God's guidance," he said. "Our own instincts can lead to mistakes, so it's comforting to know there's a higher power to help us repair the world."

With the peace accord signed Monday, Rabbi Scheinerman said, the repair of the world may take form in Israel with deserts turned to gardens, money for tanks used for medicine, and land once set aside for military cemeteries set aside for playgrounds instead.

The symbol of Rosh Hashana is the image of God opening the book of life in heaven and running his finger down a ledger of individual human achievements and failings in order to judge -- to determine, as the new year arrives, who will live and die, who will suffer and prosper.

Here on earth, said Rabbi Scheinerman, all Jews need to study their own chapters in that book.

"Ask yourself: 'Where did I go wrong? What did I say or do or didn't say or do that hurt someone? What could I have done better?' " she said.

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