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Clouds may hinder rare sun blessing

On the fourth day of creation -- a Wednesday -- God made the sun, the moon and the stars.

Today, precisely 5,769 years later, according to Jewish tradition, Jews in Los Angeles and around the world will mark the occasion by reciting a rare outdoor blessing.

But the event, which occurs every 28 years when the sun is said to reach the position it occupied when it was created, could be threatened this time by another heavenly force: bad weather.

Forecasts in Los Angeles and New York, home to the nation’s two largest Jewish communities, call for cloudy and possibly wet conditions early today.

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And that could present a challenge because Jews must be able to see at least the shape of the sun to recite “Birkat Hachamah,” or the blessing of the sun, as soon as possible after sunrise.

“It’s very much on people’s minds,” said Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, a Jewish legal scholar at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “People are praying for the best.”

The fate of the celebrations in Los Angeles was up in the air Tuesday evening, according to the National Weather Service forecast: “We are looking [at] mostly cloudy,” spokesman Bill Hoffer said. “A slight chance of thunderstorms.”

Rabbinic scholars say the blessing -- in which Jews thank God “who reenacts the work of creation” -- can be recited until midday, or 12:55 p.m. Los Angeles time.

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If the clouds don’t part, there are less conventional alternatives, including reciting the blessing from helicopters, hot-air balloons and planes.

This was employed with success by a pair of New York rabbis in 1953. On that day, rain was falling steadily, and so the rabbis asked the commanding officer of the Brooklyn Navy Yard for a plane ride.

The rabbis were flown high above the clouds, where they were able to see the sun and perform the blessing, according to Matzav.com, a website devoted to Orthodox Jewish life.

This year, public gatherings to recite the blessing and Psalms are expected at locations throughout the United States, Europe and Israel. The event also will be marked by Jews in some unlikely spots, including China, Estonia, Uruguay and Kyrgyzstan.

The Orthodox Jewish group Chabad has devoted a website to the celebration that includes live webcasts of the blessings around the world.

In Los Angeles, Chabad is hosting a large 8 a.m. blessing ceremony that is expected to attract several hundred people. Rabbis say they aren’t worried about the weather.

“God split the sea on Passover, so I’m sure he can split the clouds,” said Rabbi Chaim Cunin, chief executive for Chabad of California.

There is no special astronomical significance to the event. The fact that it is occurring this year on the eve of the Passover holiday, which begins at sundown today, is a coincidence, albeit a strikingly rare one, Jewish authorities say.

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The event has arrived on the morning before Passover only twice in modern times, in 1925 and 1309, according to one expert.

The Board of Rabbis of Southern California got a jump on the celebration, marking the blessing Tuesday with a decidedly environmental bent.

The board announced a partnership between a dozen Southern California synagogues and the South Coast Air Quality Management District to install solar-powered “eternal lights” in their sanctuaries. The AQMD provided a $10,000 grant for the effort.

“I can think of no finer way to celebrate the power of the sun than to harness its energy in new and creative ways,” said Rabbi Mark. S. Diamond, the board’s executive vice president, who recited the blessing during an outdoor ceremony at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills. The event was held early to avoid conflicts with other gatherings today.

Several other blessing ceremonies are planned for today, including an ecumenical sunrise event at Stevenson Ranch in the Santa Clarita Valley that will include a Methodist minister reading from the Psalms. That event is organized by Temple Beth Ami, a Reform congregation.

Members of an Orthodox synagogue on the Venice Beach boardwalk plan to recite the blessing around 8 a.m. at the water’s edge beyond the congregation’s front doors. Rabbi Eliyahu Fink said that he expects to see the sun, but that he and his congregants at the Pacific Jewish Center will be watching for even a brief appearance, given the possibility of clouds.

“If they see it,” Fink said, “they will run out and do the blessing.”

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duke.helfand@latimes.com


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