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Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins this evening. The High Holidays can be a challenging time for interfaith families; Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are probably the two most inaccessible major holidays on the Jewish calendar. Fasting, spending all day in synagogue, paying hundreds of dollars to pray, listening to the powerful but atonal blasts of an instrument fashioned from a ram’s horn–it’s all quite strange and sometimes off-putting for the non-Jewish members of an interfaith family. But the message of the holidays–reviewing your misdeeds and making amends for them, and considering how you will change your life in the future–is potent and necessary.
Accroding to a recent National Rabbinic Leadership Survey conducted by STAR (Synagogues: Transformation And Renewal), 92% of rabbis are concerned with the need for their synagogues to reach out more to interfaith families, gays and lesbians, single parents and singles. A plurality of these rabbis (45%) say their High Holiday sermons will focus on the need to participate in Jewish life beyond the High Holidays. Last year, this topic didn’t even make the top three of the most popular planned sermon topics. (Granted, the High Holidays did follow on the heels of the Israel-Lebanon war.)
But some people have already decided that traditional High Holiday services aren’t for them. As reported in The (New York) Jewish Week, they’re attending services at Chinese restaurants, in museums, at rented churches and on hikes through the Colorado wilderness. But as Rabbi Niles Goldstein, author of Gonzo Judaism and leader of non-traditional High Holiday services, says, “It’s very important to separate substance from shtick… The real challenge is to figure out what the right balance is.”
Lastly, let’s settle one High Holidays non-debate once and for all. Contrary to what is reported in this silly JTA article, there is no mystery over whether Milwaukee Brewers third baseman Ryan Braun will play on Yom Kippur. Despite his pride in his Jewish background, this child of an Israeli father and non-Jewish mother is not religious. Not to mention the fact that the Brewers have a razor-thin lead in the National League Central and are fighting for the playoff lives, and one game off from the team’s second best player could be the difference between making the postseason or not. The only mystery surrounding the end of Braun’s regular season is whether his election as the first Jewish Rookie of the Year will be unanimous or not.
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