It comes only every 28 years.
Every 28 years, Jewish tradition says, the sun hangs in the sky in the same position it held at the time of creation.
The last time this occurred, Ronald Reagan was in office, the Cold War was in full swing and most young adults in college today had just been born.
To commemorate the event, members of Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center gathered at Victory Park in Pasadena early Wednesday morning — 6:20 a.m., to be exact — for the blessing of the sun, or Birkat HaChamah. The Pasadena blessing was just one of many blessing ceremonies that took place Wednesday all over Los Angeles and the world.
In Pasadena, the celestial object of the pre-dawn blessing threatened to be a no show, as clouds from the previous night’s storm floated by. However, worry turned to cheer as the sun slowly made its presence known over the San Gabriel Mountains. People had their digital and cell phone cameras at the ready as if about to meet a celebrity.
Prayers in Hebrew were read by temple spiritual leader Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater, and traditional Jewish songs were sung as the sun climbed over the San Gabriels.
“It’s about reminding me of the earth and my connection to the earth and how important it is to remember that we are partners with God and creation, and reminding me to be thankful and grateful and not to take it for granted,” said Grater, who was 11 years old when the last Blessing of the Sun took place in 1981. “This is my first time ever doing this. It feels great. It feels exciting to bring tradition to so many people and to have it bring meaning to today, with this idea with the environment and with our solar energy.”
Grater felt this year’s blessing connects policy and tradition, which he said, Judaism is about.
Recently, Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center installed solar panels on its roof. In a statement on the temple’s website, the project was done in the hopes that “... The Eternal Light in the sanctuary can be more truly eternal.”
“This year, it’s all over the Internet,” said Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center President Judy Callahan, who participated at the 1981 blessing, as one of the biggest difference between then and now. “I think mass communications and the Internet and the awareness of ecology ... has completely changed things. Mass communications help religion, it enables people to be in touch and not be alone and know that there is a bigger world out there.”
Callahan adds she appreciates the collective memory of the event, given that people at Wednesday’s gathering vividly remember the last time they gathered.
“For me, it was just the surprise that there was a blessing. I hadn’t heard about it in 1981,” said JPL solar physicist and La Cañada resident Steve Edberg, who set his telescope up at the park so people could safely look at the sun. “I thought, ‘Gee, I’m sure glad that the weather cooperated.’”
Edberg felt glad there is recognition in Judaism for the life-giving power of the sun, adding that this year’s blessing could not have come at a more appropriate time. “It’s so timely now for us that it’s just a very nice convergence. We’re concerned about global warming. We have the technology to use solar energy to power our society. In that sense, it’s a very timely thing to recognize the sun in religion at a time when we need to be taking advantage of what the sun is giving us.”
The service culminated with yoga and a sun salutation. And since the blessing fell on the eve of Passover, those gathered had an opportunity to attend a short study session.
The next Birkat HaChamah will take place in 2037.