Rabbi Levi Meijers’ efforts to build a Jewish congregation in Tracy have gained momentum just in time for the High Holidays, a series of celebrations that will mark a new beginning for people of the Jewish faith.
From their home in Tracy, Meijers and his wife Faigy, who have established Chabad of Tracy Jewish Center, will welcome 60 or so families to series of Rosh Hashana events next week. Monday is the opening of Rosh Hashana, the celebration of a new year in the Jewish faith, with a worship service that evening and events to follow on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Chabad of Tracy established itself in December with virtual Chanukah observances. Since then, Meijers has been looking for a permanent physical location. Until then, his family’s home will be the worship center for this month’s holidays.
Meijers said that COVID-19 still requires that large gatherings be outdoors, so with help from the congregation he has set up an open-air tent at his home to serve as the worship center.
“It’s already special because we had so many people volunteering to put it together, leveling the ground, putting out tarp and building the tent,” he said. “There was a real last-second community hands-on, everybody just got involved. It really made it special. We’re praying in a synagogue that was built by our hands.”
Meijers said that the significance of Rosh Hashana is more than just the start of the Jewish New Year. It’s a serious observance with a joyous celebration at its center. He urges congregants to think of it as a birthday with something more.
“The new year means it’s the birthday of every part of creation, and that’s really what Rosh Hashana is, it’s the day that we crown God as king. He’s creating the world anew,” he said.
“This is something that also applies to everyone’s personal birthday,” he added. “Pick a moment on your birthday to think about, God chose me to be part of this beautiful, amazing world, to add to this world, contribute to this world. That’s really the idea of Rosh Hashana.”
During three days of Rosh Hashana services Chabad of Tracy will emphasize the spiritual significance of the holiday’s traditions. For example, dipping an apple in honey and the eating of other sweet foods reflects a wish and a prayer for good things to come in the year ahead.
Services will include the blowing of the Shofar, a hollowed-out ram’s horn. Meijers said that it’s reminiscent of the ram that God provided to Abraham as he was preparing to sacrifice his son, Isaac, to prove his devotion to God, as depicted in Genesis 22.
“This is really the highlight in this holiday,” he said. “When we blow the Shofar, it’s the sound a cry. It’s kind of that message to wake up,” he said. “We close our eyes, and we think about how we want to be better in the coming year, and how we’re going to grow and we can think about all of those things we didn’t do right. It’s not to let it bring us down, but to know how we’re going to move forward in a healthy way.”
The Shofar will be sounded again when the congregation meets Tuesday evening at the Hidden Lake clubhouse.
“The tradition is that we say a prayer, and the idea is that we are throwing our sins in the lake, in the water,” he said, adding that the body of water takes on multiple layers of spiritual significance.
The second of the major celebrations this month will be Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. It begins on Sept. 15, and Chabad of Tracy will host its observance on Thursday, Sept. 16, with services throughout the day and into the evening. The holiday represents another New Year tradition.
“There’s a vibe and this message of repentance of, we’re all really thinking the whole holiday, ‘How can we be better?’ We take new year’s resolutions. It’s a time to really look back at the past year and think where we could have maybe been a little better, and look at the coming year, where am I going to be better?”
The other holidays include Sukkot, the week after Yom Kippur, which commemorates the Israelites’ 40 years in the desert and the vulnerabilities they experienced during that time. Meijers said Chabad of Tracy will have an event for that holiday as well later this month. The High Holidays conclude with Shemini Atzeret at the end of Sukkot.
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