Opinion | Susan Knopf: Highway to holidays

I am grateful for the newly paved Colorado Highway 9 in rural northern Silverthorne. A big shout out to everyone who worked on it and planned it. It’s really nice to drive without dodging car-eating potholes. Now I want to apologize for all the times I grumbled because I had to wait 20 minutes for my turn to pass through the single lane of traffic.

Good news for me, the Day of Atonement is just around the corner. This week Jews around the world  begin the Days of Awe, the High Holiday season. “Shana tova!” is a typical Jewish New Year greeting. It means, “Good year!”

Erev Rosh Hashanah is tonight. Erev means the day before, like New Year’s Eve. Rosh Hashanah literally translates from Hebrew to mean the head of the year.

Prior to Rosh Hashanah is Selichot. During this time we think inwardly, are repentant and make our peace with G-d. While it is a joyous holiday, it is nothing like a typical secular New Year’s Eve party. Saturday will be the first day of the Jewish calendar year 5784.

We welcome these Days of Awe with sounding of the shofar, the blowing of a ram’s horn.  The shofar is blown with specific rhythm and beats during the High Holidays. 

Next is the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, which includes 25 hours of fasting. I have never really appreciated the value of repenting on any empty stomach. One thing I can tell you for sure: I enjoy the break fast. That ordinary word we use to describe our first meal of the day means to eat after we have fasted. We break our fast. My favorite dish is my husband’s home-smoked salmon, not to be confused with lox.

One of my favorite lines from the prayerbook is: for sins against G-d we must ask G-d’s forgiveness. But for sins against another person, we must ask that person to forgive us.

I use G-d instead of spelling it out as a sign of respect. If I spelled out G-d’s name it would mean we would have to treat this newspaper like a holy document and it could only be discarded like an old prayerbook, buried in a cemetery with ritual. Obviously no one will treat this newspaper that way, so I use the hyphen.

Yom Kippur is followed by Sukkot. For the record, many believe this biblical harvest celebration inspired the Puritan pilgrims to create Thanksgiving. Sukkot is a time when observant Jews construct temporary outdoor booths, to remember that life is precarious. What we have can blow away.

Next is Simchat Torah. This year, it’s the second week of October. After we celebrate the New Year, it’s time to reroll the Torah, the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

Jews around the world begin rereading each daily section or parashah beginning with Genesis Bereshit in Hebrew.  We begin our new year, and we begin learning again. The Jewish High Holidays, and the holidays that follow are like a cascade of events which help Jews to recenter, rededicate themselves to the study of Torah and to live a life of greater meaning.

While the origins and meanings are different, this cascade of serious and joyful holidays is not unlike Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Palm Sunday and Easter. For the record, scholars widely believe Jesus’ Last Supper was the Jewish feast of Passover (which was celebrated differently than today’s modern Passover seders).

Given these strong connections, it would be great to see more organizations consider the Jewish calendar to schedule important community events.

The Breck Film Festival often falls on the High Holidays. That’s why I stopped participating. The organizers have told me (and others who have objected) that the film festival must work around other events on the Summit County calendar and on the national film festival calendar. The third weekend in September is their weekend. That’s often a Jewish High Holiday, as it is this year.

Local friends quit the festival and then decided to participate again, but only in so far as it didn’t conflict with their religious observances. But the film festival is not alone. The same friend told me the Northeastern Veterinary Medicine Association once scheduled their annual meeting in conflict with the High Holidays. Once the association organizers were advised, they never did it again. Their son had a college exam scheduled for the first night of Passover.

My friend said it’s hard to be a member of minority religion, whose holidays are often not found on standard calendars. I have another friend who predicted that everything will be much better in a few decades when all religion is dead. I don’t think so. I am grateful for Synagogue of the Summit, and Summit Colorado Interfaith Council that work to make sure everyone has a seat at our table. Shana Tovah!

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