Jewish community celebrates, reflects, forgives in this New Year

The Martha's Vineyard Hebrew Center will host high holiday services. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

The Jewish community begins a new year with the celebration of Rosh Hashanah next week, and atones for the sins of the last year on September 26, Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in Judaism.

“The whole month before Rosh Hashanah and through Yom Kippur we examine our lives, admit our failings, ask forgiveness from God and from those we have hurt, and try to change our behavior,” said Rabbi Caryn Broitman, the spiritual leader of Vineyard Haven’s Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center (MVHC), in a recent interview with The Times.

Rosh Hashanah, Hebrew for “Head of the Year,” lasts through the first and second days of the month of Tishrei, the first month of the Hebrew calendar’s civil year. This year it will begin at sunset on Sunday, September 16 and end at nightfall on Tuesday, September 18. Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of Yamim Nora’im, the Jewish High Holy Days, and Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, marks the end, which falls this year on September 26.

Alan Ganapol, president of the MVHC, said, “What I enjoy about the two holidays is the recycling of the year and having the opportunity to refresh your commitment to your community and family in a very spiritual and mindful way. We have the opportunity to ask forgiveness for the things we have done or not done to offend others, and are able to turn a page.”

In addition to reflection and fresh determination, the New Year is a time for togetherness.

“It is important for people to come together at this time for a number of reasons,” said Rabbi Broitman. “First, we are setting aside time for meaningful reflection on our lives, our relationships, and our communities in the world. Second, we are doing it in a way that enhances our connections to each other and to our Jewish past and our heritage. And third, we can celebrate life in community with each other. We are sharing the experience with each other, learning from each other, and affirming our lives lived together.”

Throughout the 10-day period, observant Jews will gather with friends and family in their homes and at the Hebrew Center. At meal times, they will enjoy traditional foods, such as apples and honey, to symbolize a sweet new year, round challah, symbolic of the circle of life, and dates, black-eyed peas, and spinach. These are foods discussed in the Talmud, a text considered second of importance to the Torah.

At the Hebrew Center, special prayer services will begin on Sunday, September 16, at 6 pm, the onset of Rosh Hashanah. Morning services will occur throughout the holidays, at 9:30 am, along with opportunities to gather and talk at the Hebrew Center and Owen Park. Children aged 6 to 10 are invited to participate in Junior Congregations, concurrent with the other services.

Of his hopes for the Island’s Jewish community this year, Mr. Ganapol said he looks forward to “Fulfillment of desires and wishes, and a stronger community to do good stuff. We talk about social actions, helping each other, and renewing commitment to the values of community, and not just that of the MVHC.” As a part-time EMT, Mr. Ganapol also expressed his wish for good health in the community.

Yom Kippur, the final day of the New Year holiday period, is celebrated with a 25-hour fasting period, starting on September 25, Yom Kippur Erev, at sundown. On the following day, there will be services at the MVHC from 9:30 am to 7:15 pm. Then a celebratory blast from the Shofar, a ram’s horn, will signal the end of the holiday. The community will break their fast with a light meal at the Hebrew Center and wish one another “Shana Tova,” the Rosh Hashanah greeting, meaning “A Good Year.”

For a full schedule of services and other information, call 508-693-0745 or visit This year, the Hebrew Center asks that those planning to attend services reserve seats beforehand.