Have Faith: L’shanah tovah

Celebrating the New Year with the M.V. Hebrew Center community.

On Rosh Hashanah, a shofar, or ram’s horn, is blown to announce the new year. — Megs Harrison

Sally Cohn from the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center called me a couple of weeks ago to invite me to the Tabernacle to celebrate the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It was to take place Sept. 25, beginning at 5:30 pm at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs, and it was set to continue on Monday and Tuesday mornings. I accepted knowing that I have little to no understanding of Rosh Hashanah — and it was time I addressed my ignorance.

I have been to the Hebrew Center for Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations and for other community events, but I still lack awareness of the holy days on the Jewish calendar. I can tell you that the Virgin Mary’s birthday is Sept. 8, that the Feast of St. Nicholas falls on Dec. 6, and that Pentecost Sunday was on June 5 this year. It’s time to learn something new, I thought.

I made my way to the Tabernacle knowing that if there was live music, it would sound heavenly. And I already knew that Rabbi Caryn Broitman has a lovely voice from previous visits to the MVHC. Eric Johnson was set to play guitar, Anthony Esposito on percussion, Jeff Warshauer had a guitar as well to go along with his cantor role, and Deborah Strauss was there on violin. These musically gifted folks got things going early with a rousing song in Hebrew, one that came with lively participation from the congregation. The exuberance that they displayed was the word “joyful” personified. This wasn’t the first time I felt a little envy for a group of worshippers who clearly enjoy not only their faith but also the community they share it with. It didn’t hurt that it was a perfect summer evening, with a cool breeze but not blustery.

“L’shanah tovah,” Rabbi Broitman said in greeting.

Prayers in Hebrew both in word and song followed, sometimes while the bells at the Methodist church rang out and the ferry horn blared. “That’s the shofar,” the rabbi joked at one point. And I actually understood the joke because I had looked up Rosh Hashanah and knew that blowing into a ram’s horn (shofar) was part of the celebration of the high holiday. (I have to note here that Rabbi Giulia Fleishman helped me out by guiding me to the web article myjewishlearning.com/article/rosh-hashanah-101.) Ancient rabbis signified Rosh Hashanah as the anniversary of the day the world was created, the article says.

“This is the time of year during which we are to atone for both our individual — and on Yom Kippur, our communal — sins committed over the course of the previous year, before God literally closes the books on us and inscribes our fates for the coming year. God’s rule over humanity and our need to serve God are stressed time and again over the course of the holiday,” the site says. That gave me some context with which to understand Rabbi Broitman’s sermon.

She opened with the idea that we tend to always consider perfection as the end goal, when in reality it’s the journey that we learn from.

“Our tradition embraces a creative process where getting it wrong becomes the foundation of getting it right,” Rabbi Broitman said. We place demands on ourselves to be perfect when perfection is something only God can reach.

We all make mistakes, she said, whether it be at home, at work, or with those we love by hurting them. “We live in a punitive culture that demands perfection,” Rabbi Broitman said.

Remember when Moses broke the Tablets of the Covenant in anger when he found the Israelites worshiping the Golden Calf? The shattered tablets are replaced with a second set chiseled out by Moses and rewritten by God. The Ark of the Covenant is said to have contained both the broken and the restored version. “We need to open our hearts to accept the broken and the whole,” she said. “We need to embrace the reality of the imperfections in ourselves and in each other. If God can embrace the imperfect, so must we.”

What a beautiful message and a wonderful way to start the new year.

For years the MVHC has worked on the High Holidays Hunger Project, donating a special collection to the Island Food Pantry during this time of year. If you would like to donate, make your check payable to the M.V. Hebrew Center and designate the High Holiday Hunger Project, and they will make sure the funds get to the Food Pantry. M.V. Hebrew Center, P.O. Box 692, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568, or you can donate online at mvhc.us/donate.html.

Yom Kippur services begin Wednesday, Oct. 4, at 6 pm at the Tabernacle and continue Thursday. You can find news about all the High Holiday services at mvhc.us.


The next meeting of the Neighborhood Convention will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 4, beginning at 11 am at the First Congregational Church in West Tisbury. The Rev. Cathlin Baker will conduct the worship service, and the program will be led by Tim Boland of Polly Hill Arboretum.

All are welcome; bring a bag lunch and dessert. Beverages will be provided by the hosts.

If you have news for Have Faith, send it to connie@mvtimes.com