“We are arrogant; but You are merciful.
We are obstinate; but You are patient.
We are laden with sin; but You abound in compassion.
We are a passing shadow; but You are eternal.”
So sung cantor Nancy Hausman in Hebrew as she led the synagogue of Temple Brith Sholom through the final prayers of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Earlier, acting Rabbi Michael Weinstein spoke of Jonah, who fled from God and shirked his responsibility; he talked of him as a model of behavior that we shouldn’t emulate, but that we could all very well understand — and who, because of this, is “someone we can learn from.”
After the prayers and songs culminated Thursday night, Weinstein blew the shofar, a traditional Jewish ram’s horn trumpet, and the High Holy Days that commenced 10 days earlier on Rosh Hashanah came to an end.
It also marked the end of a fast that began the day before, and the members of the congregation now helped move chairs and tables to set up for a breaking of that fast, with a simple selection of traditional Jewish foods — bagels, lox, challah bread and noodle kugel.
The fast-breaking, Weinstein said, symbolized the transition “from the spiritual world back to the physical world.” The prior 10 days, the Days of Awe, were days of purification and repentance — an opportunity for believers to try to get right with God.
For Yom kippur, some members recited special prayers for the occasion — prayers that deal with specific sins, and end in requests for forgiveness.
“Some people will recite all the atonement prayers,” he said. “It’s quite involved.”
At Brith Sholom, observance can be more relaxed — it depends on personal preference. For instance, for the period of fasting, five total prohibitions are traditionally called for: abstinence from eating and drinking, from bathing or washing, from using perfume or lotion, from sex and from wearing leather shoes.
But only a handful of members of the synagogue adhered to all of those prohibitions, said Michael Pollak.
He was wearing leather shoes, and said only few members observed that particular rule.
Pollak said he observes the ceremonial aspects of the holiday as “commitment to the past.”
He does it, he said, to commemorate Jews who suffered and died to practice their faith.
“By participating, you remember them,” he said. “It’s a reminder that people died for the right to do this.”
But ultimately, Weinstein said, the purpose of the holiday was to orient members of the community to being better people, and better members of their communities.
The goal is “to become a better human being,” he said.