Past, present mark Metro Detroit Jews’ New Year

Mark Hicks

How does one ring in the year 5777?

Rosh Hashana marks the New Year on the Jewish calendar, launching the High Holy Days season: a sacred period filled with intense contemplation as well as preparation for the future.

The associated observances — Hebrew greetings, worship services, jovial meals — have been refined over centuries. Jews across Metro Detroit recognize those customs as they start the holiday at sundown Sunday, but with contemporary twists: yoga, fighting food insecurity, social justice-centered sermons, even drones.

“It’s a holiday that’s been around for a lot of years and it’s biblical, but I think every generation tries to make it meaningful, as well, so it’s both traditional and innovative,” said Rabbi Aaron Bergman of Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills.

Heeding time-honored traditions in a modern world is a feature of Rosh Hashana, which lasts through Tuesday evening.

When gathering, relatives and friends often welcome each other with a Hebrew phrase: “May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year.” That nods to the Ten Days of Repentance between the New Year and Yom Kippur — the Day of Atonement. During this time, Jews believe, God determines who lives, dies, thrives or struggles in the next 12 months.

That’s why followers consider their actions and behavior, said Rabbi Aaron Starr of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield. “It’s our season of judgment. Certainly those 10 days is an opportunity to be self-reflective: ‘How can we be more righteous in the year to come? How can we touch other people’s lives more significantly? How can we make a difference in the world? How can we deepen our relationship with our creator?’ ”

Jewish tradition holds that Year One on their lunar calendar marked mankind’s creation. It also emphasizes that the Book of Life opened during the Days of Awe includes who is born in the upcoming year.

Past and present collide at Starr’s synagogue during a “Tiny Treasures” ceremony this week that blesses children born since 2015 and fetes “the birthday of the world,” he said.

Kelli Saperstein Anderson of West Bloomfield Township plans to accompany her 8-month-old daughter, Elyse, through the sanctuary for the event, which she views as reflecting the season’s focus on spiritual restoration. “Just with renewal, you think of the birth of children,” she said. “You have these pure souls — how can we as a community bring them up to be the best people that they can be?”

Giving and improvement guide many Jews as they approach Yom Kippur — considered their holiest day, full of fasting and praying — on Oct. 11. That translates into area synagogues and groups collecting food donations totaling thousands of pounds for an annual effort headed by Yad Ezra, the Berkley kosher pantry working to feed families in need.

“The idea ties in so beautifully. … You’re remembering that there are a lot of people who don’t have the luxury of deciding they’re not going to eat,” executive director Lea Luger said. “It’s an opportunity to be part of the greater community and think about how we all need to help each other.”

The communal feel of the holiday has a modern take at Adat Shalom. While the synagogue still offers Torah study, this week, members can join a yoga/meditation session as part of a “mind, body and stress reduction” effort, Bergman said. “We see these things as helping individuals. There are so many different ways of expressing yourself… Yoga, just the physicality, is a form of spiritual expression, as well. We try to have one eye on tradition and one eye on the future.”

That notion informs a ceremony Oct. 9 at Chene Park in Detroit. The Well, a Jewish community-building initiative launched last year, is drawing hundreds there Tashlich, an ancient ritual that symbolizes discarding sins through hurling bread crumbs into flowing water.

A drone is set to hover over the riverfront to film the act, said Rabbi Dan Horwitz, The Well’s founding director. Participants also have a host of other novel touches: live music, interactive art, food trucks, even blowing kazoos to evoke the shofar, or ram’s horn sounded as a call to worship.

The idea was to boost an age-old custom with “fun, awesome stuff that makes it appealing, with something for everybody,” Horwitz said.

An inclusive approach to worship is nothing new at Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue in Detroit, where services are often lay-led and open to the community. High Holy Days ceremonies this year are held at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills to accommodate more guests, said Ariana Silverman, the synagogue’s first female rabbi.

During her service, Silverman — who started at the synagogue last summer, weeks before delivering her second child — expects to focus on “voices that have gone unheard in different spaces, whether it’s female voices or voices of people of color,” she said. “I think that’s especially important this year when we have a conversation about Black Lives Matter, the first female presidential nominee. Thinking about these conversations that needed to happen perhaps a long time ago but are finally happening on the national scene are now happening in the microcosm of the synagogue.”