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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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. …