New Year Brings New Rabbis Rosh Hashana Celebration Starts Sunday

Article excerpt

Sunday evening's new moon marks the start of Rosh Hashana,

the Jewish new year, a time for the faithful to savor the

sweetness of life, repent of their sins and pledge themselves to

moral renewal.

And this year, at several Jacksonville synagogues, these new

beginnings will also mean greeting the new faces of

Jacksonville's Jewish religious leadership -- including the

city's first female Conservative rabbi.

This summer, Beth Shalom Congregation, a Conservative synagogue

in Mandarin hired Rabbi Michelle L. Goldsmith, 27, as assistant

rabbi.

Etz Chaim Synagogue, the city's Orthodox synagogue, hired Rabbi

Aaron Goldscheider, 31, to be its religious leader.

Congregation Ahavath Chesed, Jacksonville's Reform synagogue,

hired Rabbi Steven H. Rau, 27, as an assistant rabbi.

Two of America's three main Jewish denominations, the Reform

and Conservative movements, ordain women as rabbis. Seminaries

training Orthodox rabbis do not.

Earlier in the decade, Ahavath Chesed employed a woman as an

assistant rabbi.

Though all three rabbis started their jobs before the coming

holiday, the Jewish new year represents a debut of sorts for all

three: typically, these services produce the best attendance of

the year.

In addition to commemorating the creation of the world and

God's kingship of the universe, Rosh Hashana also begins a 10-day

period of penitence that culminates in Yom Kippur, the day of

atonement. It begins at sundown Sept. 29 this year.

It is a time devoted to inner reflection, prayer and repentance

for the sins and misdeeds of the previous year.

In the religious metaphor that seeks to capture the weightiness

of the occasion, Jews pray in hope that God will inscribe the

penitent in the Book of Life for the coming year.

For rabbis, it is among the best opportunities to inspire and

spiritually uplift their congregants.

"For some of these people, this will be my only opportunity to

speak to them," said Goldscheider, a New York native, who

arrived in Jacksonville last month to lead the 200-family Etz

Chaim Synagogue.

He wants his message to convey the notion that God is anxious

for Jews to return to the observance of Jewish law and

tradition, he said. It's a message that dovetails with what

Goldscheider views as the biggest challenge of his new pulpit,

demonstrating the power and relevance that Jewish Orthodoxy,

with its many strictures and demands, has in the modern world.

"People are living nicely," he said. "They have their cars and

vacations. But they can have something else. They can have a

greater meaning."

For Goldsmith and Rau, the holidays bring somewhat less

pressure. As assistant rabbis, they oversee the religious

education of their congregations' children. They won't have the

primary role of officiating over services.

Still, each will give a sermon.

"Rabbis don't get up there and preach fire and brimstone,"

explained Goldsmith, who was ordained this past spring.

But the notion of taking responsibility and atoning for

individual and communal misbehavior is central to the holiday,

she said.

Goldsmith said she feels lucky that as Beth Shalom's first

female rabbi, she is filling no predecessor's shoes.

"Because I am the first, I can set the standard," she said. "I

can be the role model."

Charting her course entails not only serving as a rabbi, but as

a rabbi who has a female voice, she said.

For example, recently in discussing the weekly scripture

reading that anchors a Sabbath prayer service, Goldsmith focused

on a passage involving rape. …