Jewish congregations note High Holy Days in LDS meetinghouses

As Jews throughout the world ushered in their High Holy Days Sept. 15, many in the Los Angeles area read the Torah and welcomed the Jewish New Year in Latter-day Saint meetinghouses.

The High Holy Days began Sept. 15-16 with Rosh Hashanah and continue Sept. 24-25 as Jews gather in their annual fast during Yom Kippur.Many synagogues are unable to hold the large numbers wishing to attend Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services. For more than 20 years, some Jewish congregations have conducted their High Holy Days in LDS buildings in the Los Angeles area. Services have been held in ward meetinghouses and stake centers in Palos Verdes, Granada Hills, Reseda, Canoga Park, Van Nuys, Woodland Hills, Thousand Oaks and Chatsworth.

According to Rabbi Ronald Shulman of the Ner Tamid ("Eternal Light") Synagogue, his congregation has been meeting for 13 years at the Palos Verdes California Stake Center for the High Holy Days. "They have been nothing but gracious hosts," Rabbi Shulman said.

"Our own building can hold 500. We have more than 1,700 who want to attend services. We used to do two or three services but it became too cumbersome."

Randall G. Turner, president of the Palos Verdes California Stake, recalled that the Jewish congregation approached the stake because "they had heard that Mormons have a reputation for reaching out. They were hoping that this reputation was valid. They hoped that the Church would be able to help the synagogue with its High Holy Days' large congregations."

"We are pleased when the community feels comfortable in our building," said Pres. Turner. "Having them come to the stake center raises awareness of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These are wonderful people. They desire to get closer to their Father in heaven. If we can facilitate that, we will."

The Torah is read during Rosh Hashanah services. The specific passages include: Genesis 19 to 22 (events in the lives of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac); Numbers 29:1-6 (describing a "holy convocation" and "blowing the trumpets"); and Leviticus 16 to 19 (commandments to Israel regarding sacrifices, dietary laws, marriage, and righteous living). The Ner Tamid Synagogue has four copies of the Torah, each handwritten in Hebrew on parchment.

"Rosh Hashanah is a happy, festive event," Rabbi Shulman said. "We celebrate and welcome in the New Year. Yom Kippur is more solemn. Both are biblical holidays."

According to Rabbi Shulman one of the highlights of Rosh Hashanah is the sounding of the Shofar, or ram's horn. "A member of the congregation sounds the Shofar to get everyone's attention," he said. "It is a call to be awakened, to be startled, and to look within. It is a time for introspection and evaluating your life. It is a call to the mind to focus on your life, its orientation and goals."

Yom Kippur involves a 25-hour fast for those 13 years of age and older. "We call it a 25-hour fast because we start early and end late to make sure that the fast is a complete day. We hold services all day," said Rabbi Shulman. Prayers are conducted in both English and Hebrew.

"Traditionally, we sanctify the holidays over a cup of wine. Because of the location of our services and out of deference to the Mormons, we use grape juice. It is kosher grape juice, but it is unfermented," Rabbi Shulman said.

The Ner Tamid is a conservative synagogue, and the congregation reads large portions of the services in Hebrew. In contrast, the Valley Outreach Synagogue, meeting in the Van Nuys California Stake center, is a more liberal congregation with a greater portion of the services in English.

A. Gerald Michels, president of the Los Angeles California Van Nuys Stake, said: "We are part of the community. To the degree that we can assist with appropriate activities, we ought to. We welcome our Jewish friends and neighbors. We believe this is a good thing to do."

Pres. Michels is familiar with the significance of these days to Jews throughout the world. Among his ancestors were several rabbis. He said, "Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are important holidays that draw families together. It is very good that we are able to help this congregation."

Those attending Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services at the Van Nuys stake center, as well as all other LDS buildings, are informed of the Church's standards regarding the use of tobacco and alcoholic beverages.

"We try to accommodate without compromising our standards and teachings," Pres. Michels said. "We try to help the community and make the Church a good friend and neighbor."

According to Pres. Michels, the Church makes the buildings available for the Jewish High Holy Days services at no cost to the congregations.

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