Jews in Fairfield celebrated Rosh Hashanah on Monday with a call to remember their brethren in Israel, who are threatened by neighboring nations.
The 10 a.m. service in Congregation Ahavath Achim, a synagogue on Stratfield Road, included readings from Genesis, I Samuel and Psalm 47; the sounding of the shofar, which is intended to recognize the sovereignty of God and call Jews to repentance, and prayers for the governments and armed forces of both the United States and Israel.
Rabbi Mitchell Rocklin said dipping a piece of apple in honey and the sounding of the shofar are the two images most associated with Rosh Hashanah, which marks the start of new year 5773 for Jews. He said dipping a piece of apple in honey enables Jews to appreciate the blessings they have been given and to ask God for continued blessings in the new year, or a "sweet year" ahead. He said the sounding of the shofar, in addition to being a call to repentance, also serves as a rallying cry and was sounded in the past at a time of war and a time of gathering.
"If we're not involving ourselves in activities for protection of Jews around the world, particularly in Israel, we're missing half the point of Rosh Hashanah," Rocklin said to about 75 people attending Monday morning's service. "In Israel today, people are considering mortal threats to their own existence that we do not face here."
"We need, from a position of security, to do everything we can to support our brethren in Israel," Rocklin said. "We cannot let our brethren down when they are in such danger, and face so much danger, in the coming year."
Support for the state of Israel could include writing letters and making donations to political leaders in the United States and lobbying them to help Israel, Rocklin said.
Rosh Hashanah, marking the start of the year 5773 on the Jewish calendar, lasts 10 days until Yom Kippur. The 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are known as the Ten Days of Repentence, and on Yom Kippur, which lasts one day, Jews fast for 24 hours, neither eating nor drinking, said Lionel Eliovson, a member of Congregation Ahavath Achim for 47 years. "We believe on that day [Yom Kippur], God passes judgment on us for the next year," he said.
The reading from Genesis on Monday was about the birth of Isaac, the son of Abraham, whom God chose as the father of the nation of Israel. This passage of Genesis is read on the first day of Rosh Hashanah because it was on this day that God remembered Sarah, Abraham's wife, who was barren but gave birth to Isaac in her old age on that day, according to the High Holyday Prayer Book, which was the book used during Monday's service.
Rocklin said there is a link between the birth of Isaac and the I Samuel account read Monday because the latter concerned God's granting of a child to Hannah, who, like Sarah, was also barren. Hannah, after praying silently in the Temple, is granted a son, whom she names "Samuel," which means "I asked the Lord for him," Rocklin said.
The I Samuel account is read during Rosh Hashanah because, according to tradition, God remembered Hannah at that time, according to the High Holyday Prayer Book.
Rocklin said one of the main messages in the I Samuel account of Isaac's birth is that "the private, personal prayers are just as important to God as the offerings brought to the temple."
Hannah had made a deal with God in that she would have a child if she dedicated her child to serve in the temple after he had been weaned, Rocklin said. "So she will be granted a child and will lose a child," he said, adding that the passage serves as a model for how Jews should view their blessings.
Hannah, Rocklin said, "comes to terms with the blessings she's received" -- that she won't have a child who grows up in her home, but a child who will be a leader of Jews.
Monday's service was nearly entirely in Hebrew, except for parts where Rocklin explained the significance and reasons for the readings and the sounding of the shofar.
The reading from Genesis on Tuesday will be about God's call to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering, which God calls off just as Abraham is about to do it. God's command to Abraham to sacrifice his son was to test Abraham's willingness to obey God, and Abraham's willingness to obey even the most difficult of commands made him righteous in God's sight.
The sounding of the shofar, or ram's horn, also calls to mind the near sacrifice of Isaac because after God told Abraham not to follow through with it, Abraham saw a ram stuck in a thicket and sacrificed the ram to God instead, Eliovson said.