Jews Approach Days of Awe Reflection, Repentance Mark Beginning of New Year

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Byline: Teresa Mask and Jon Davis Daily Herald Staff Writers

For Jewish people throughout the suburbs, sunset will mark the start of a new year.

Rosh Hashana, literally "the head of the year," begins the penitential Days of Awe, the High Holy Days that end Sept. 30 with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

During the next two days, Jews will pack the synagogues to reflect on the past year, repent of their sins and set goals for the future. Synagogues will fill again at Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.

Despite being aimed at Jews in particular, the messages of the High Holy Days - realizing the sovereignty of God, evaluating one's life and place in the world and acknowledging sins and mistakes - are universal, said Rabbi Marc Belgrad of Congregation Beth Am in Wheeling.

Still, Jewish leaders find Rosh Hashana a fitting opportunity to address their people. They search their own souls for the words that will make this New Year's sermon a memorable one, one that will touch the hearts of each in the audience, many whom may not return to the synagogue for another year.

Rabbi Jodie Futornick, who leads the McHenry County Jewish Congregation, will talk to the adults in her Conservative congregation about using the new year to work on instilling strong values in their children.

It's important for parents to stress the Jewish values of compassion, benevolence, justice, the ability to know right from wrong and strong moral behavior, she said.

Futornick said she may allude to President Clinton's indiscretions when she talks about morality, but will not make him the focus of her sermon.

"I want to talk about what tools are available to us to help our children and not be reactive to any one current event," she said.

While the president's woes offer a convenient segue into the themes of Rosh Hashana, it's difficult to discuss the president's problem in a family setting, said Rabbi Edmund Winter, of the Maine Township Jewish Congregation Shaare Emet in Des Plaines.

Instead, he said he will focus on getting people to reflect on themselves, and challenge the members of his congregation to evaluate themselves as people and as Jews. …