High Holidays in Paradise

By Carole Stone

As the sun sets on October 2, Jews everywhere will celebrate the beginning of the year 5777, according to the Hebrew calendar. Traditionally Rosh Hashanah marks the birthday of the creation of the first man and woman—or at the very least the beginning of humankind’s consciousness of God as the Creator. The High Holy Day season has evolved over many centuries to represent a time for soul-searching and repentance, seeking and granting forgiveness within and outside of our communities, and making things right with our Creator. It is an annual opportunity to start over again and specifically to begin again to partner with the Holy One to perfect Creation—in Hebrew, Tikkun Olam.

October 2 also marks a new beginning for the Jewish community here in San Miguel de Allende (a.k.a., “San Miguel de Gan Eden”/“paradise”). Three years ago, CHESMA, A.C. (Comunidad Hebrea En SMA) undertook an historic step: purchasing the former Feed the Hungry offices and warehouse on the corner of Calle de las Moras and Cinco de Mayo to establish the first permanent Jewish presence in El Bajío. The “JC3,” which stands for Jewish Cultural and Community Center, was born! Thanks to our members, we were able to quickly pay off the building in full, and renovations were begun to make our new home more inviting and to provide better service to the community. Phase two of our renovation plans are scheduled to be completed, or more likely near-completed, by Rosh Hashanah.

To inaugurate our new beautiful, spacious Sanctuary/Community Room and adjacent areas, our Annual Rosh Hashanah Community Dinner will take place in our new digs and will begin at 5pm on October 2. For more information please call our administrative assistant, Edith Quintana Javalera, during regular office hours: 185 9191 or email shalomsanmiguel@yahoo.com.mx. Reservations for the dinner are mandatory. Following dinner, at approximately 7:30pm, CHESMA Membership Committee chairperson Dr. Norman Feldstein will lead an alternative, nontraditional Rosh Hashanah evening service, featuring the talents of Maxine Graboyes, formerly cantorial soloist of Congregation B’nai Vail in Vail, CO, as well as our very own Alicia Rappoport and keyboard accompanist Lydymyla Martynova. All are cordially invited to attend this lovely musical, spiritually uplifting service, which will highlight the JC3’s commitment to provide a wide range of religious, cultural, and social programs for all the Jews of San Miguel and their friends.

The wonderful music and spirituality continues on Monday morning, October 3, at 9:30, with a new Reform Rosh Hashanah service, this year led by CHESMA’s Ritual Committee chairperson Dr. Dan Lessner, and also featuring the talents of the above cantorial soloists and keyboardist. For the many who have been requesting a Reform Rosh Hashanah morning service, this is your opportunity. Many readings will be in English and/or Spanish, and all may participate in this relatively truncated, user-friendly Reform/Alternative service. The shofar will be sounded at approximately 10:45 or 11:00am. All are welcome to attend any or all parts of all services at the JC3.

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, Tuesday, October 4, the morning service will begin at 9am with a traditional/egalitarian Conservative service led by Dr. Dan Lessner, Kehilla Shalom San Miguel’s lay leader; Carole Stone, President of CHESMA, A.C. and cantorial soloist; and Soli Cohen, head of Bikkur Cholim /“Visiting the Sick” Committee and cantorial soloist. This will be a Hebrew-dominant service with complete Torah reading and Haftarah, Blessing of the Kohanim, etc., for the more traditional in our community. Again, all are welcome to attend—our prayer books are completely translated and phonetically transliterated into both English and Spanish. Shofar Service will begin at approximately 11–11:15am.

The single holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, begins right before sundown on Tuesday, October 11. Traditional Jews fast and abstain from sexual relations and the wearing of leather-soled shoes and jewelry, among other rituals, as a symbol of mourning for their sins and as a desire to transcend our physical bodies for a more spiritual, angelic plane. Although the Kol Nidrei service that begins at 7pm sharp! (Get there early for preferred seating; we expect a crowd.) will be following a more traditional format, as is our long-standing custom, this year we are trying something quite special. We are happy to announce that Guillermo Sánchez Romero, cello soloist of the Orquesta Filarmónica del Estado de Querétaro, will play Max Bruch’s “Kol Nidrei” at the start of our service; he will also provide some lovely, meditative background music and will accompany soloist Alicia Rappoport in her unforgettable rendition of “Avinu Malkenu.” The service itself will be led by Dan Lessner, Carole Stone, and Soli Cohen, with Alicia Rappoport taking part. Although Yom Kippur is a most solemn day, many regard it also as a rather joyous time—our sins are forgiven! Traditional Ashekenazic/European and exotic Sephardic/Eastern melodies combine to make the service unique. All are welcome.

Wednesday, October 12 , Yom Kippur day, is a marathon of prayer! Four more services are featured, and the JC3 will be filled with melodious prayer essentially from sunrise to sunset. The above-mentioned leaders and cantorial soloists will each take part for at least part of the day, which will follow a more traditional (Conservative) format. The morning service begins at 9am, and will include full Torah reading and Yizkor Service/Memorial for the Dead, at about 11:30am. Mussaf Service follows, with many traditional piyyutim/sacred hymns and special commemorations. After a short break, we resume at 5:15pm for Minchah service, with a brief Torah reading and chanting of the Book of Jonah. The final service of the Day of Atonement, Ne’ila, will begin about 6:45pm, and is truly the climax of the High Holy Days. It represents the “closing of the gates” (of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, as well as the Gates of Repentance in heaven)—it is our last chance to get in our prayers for forgiveness and for a healthy, happy, and peaceful New Year. The shofar is blown to signal the end of the holiday, and the fast may be broken. A community potluck break-the-fast is shared, and we prepare for the next major holiday in only four days’ time, Sukkot, the Feast of Booths, our harvest festival.

Wishing everyone a joyous, healthy, love-filled, and “sweet” New Year!


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