80,000 Jews in County Mark High Holy Days

Times Staff Writer

On Rosh Ha s hanah, they are inscribed and on the fast day of Yom Kippur they are sealed: How many shall pass away and how many shall be born; who shall live and who shall die.

--Netaneh Tokef, traditional Jewish prayer

At sunset Sunday, an estimated 80,000 Jews in 23 Orange County congregations began to celebrate the High Holy Days--the most significant holy days of the year starting with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and concluding with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and judgment.

Rosh Hashanah, a two-day holiday, marks the first of 10 days of repentence that end with Yom Kippur, a day of fasting from sunset Sept. 20 to sunset Sept. 21.


“The essence of Rosh Hashanah is that it’s a time when a Jew renews bonds with his spiritual maker,” said Rabbi David Elliezrie of the North Orange County Chabad Center. “It’s a time to look at our successes and failings and at our commitment for self-improvement and change.”

The synagogues and temples will hold prayer services today and Tuesday and again on Sept. 20. Orthodox Jews are prohibited from driving on the holy days.

Similar rituals will be observed by all 23 congregations including several new ones such as the ultra orthodox North Orange County Chabad Center in Yorba Linda and the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation and “modern orthodox” Beth Jacob congregation in Irvine, said Chelle Friedman, of the Jewish Federation of Orange County.

For instance, all Rosh Hashanah services include the sounding of the shofar , a wind instrument made from a ram’s horn. According to Jewish symbolism, the shofar’s blast serves as a reminder to awaken from deep sleep, or the ambivalence that can befall marriages, relationships and friendships or personal ethics.


From Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, traditional Jewish foods also “reek with symbolism” and are mostly sweet, said Cheri Kessner, a founding member of the Beth Jacob congregation.

Challahs, braided bread, are made in a round shape to show the continuity of life, she said. Apples are dipped in honey because it’s customary to wish one another a “sweet and happy year,” she said.

During the holy days, Jews ask God to forgive them their sins for the year. The mincemeat in kreplach , a stuffed dumpling in chicken soup, represents “chopped up sins,” she said.

On the Day of Atonement in ancient times, the Jewish high priests laid their hands on a live goat, confessed the sins of the people, and having transferred the sins, sent the goat into the wilderness. The term scapegoat was derived from the practice.


Traces of the ancient practice remain in the controversial practice of kapparot by some Orthodox Jews. The night and early morning before Yom Kippur, a live chicken is swung over a person’s head, then slaughtered according to kosher laws. The chicken is usually given to the needy.

Orthodox congregations may also observe tashlich , a ceremony in which their sins are symbolically cast into any body of water containing fish. In Orange County, it can be difficult for those prohibited from driving to find water within walking distance. One year, Rabbi Elliezrie recalls, he led a congregation to the Disneyland Hotel where they performed the ceremony beside the waterway.

The High Holy Day season also includes the holy days of Sukkot, the festival of tabernacles (Sept. 25-27), Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah (Oct. 2-4). The entire season concludes with an Israeli fair, to be held Oct. 30 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Orange County fairgrounds.