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A Secular Jewish Rosh Hashone Observance

Lawrence Bush
January 1, 1970


Mir bagrisn hoykh un klor L’Shana Tova, A Gut Yor Mir bagrisn un mir vintshn Ale kinder hoykh un klor L’Shana tova, tikosavu A Gut Yor, A Gut Yor Tates, mames, dem gantzn dor, L’Shona Tova, A Gut Yor Tates, mames, shvester brider Mispokhe, fraynt dem gantzn dor L’Shona Tova, Kol Yisroel A Gut Yor, A Gut Yor We greet you loud and clear A good year, a good year We greet and we wish All the children loud and clear May you be inscribed for a good year A good year, a good year Fathers, mothers, the whole generation A good year, a good year Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers Relatives, friends, the whole generation A good year to all Jews A good year! A good year! Reader: The Shofar calls. For it is Yom T’ruah….”The day for sounding the Shofar.” TEKIAH All: The Shofar sounds a beckoning call out of our past TEKIAH Reader: The Shofar calls. And we come. All over the world, throughout millennia past, the people of Israel gather together on the New Year. All: Together on this Rosh Hoshana, with both newcomers and old friends, united as Jews, we find comfort in our traditions. SHEVARIM Reader: We partake today from the bounty of tradition and we create anew from our collective experience and our humanistic beliefs. All: In ancient days our ancestors looked to God for strength and wisdom. Today, we look for these qualities within ourselves. We call upon our own knowledge, our own abilities and our own humanity. TERUAH Reader: Lift up your voices like a Shofar. TEKIAH GEDOLAH Reader: The Shofar is piercing and compelling. All: Awaken my senses, Shofar. This is the time to renew our commitment. Let us greet each other with peace and good will. Reader: We will now sing Haveynu Sholem Aleichem (2X)


Reader: The first ten days of the month of Tishri, beginning with Rosh Hashana and ending with Yom Kippur, are a time of reflection---of what has gone before and what lies ahead---of the past year and the year to come. Reader: Rosh Hashana, the beginning of beginnings. According to rabbinic legend this is the anniversary of Creation---the earth, sea and sky and all the creatures that dwell there. Reader: It is harvest time---the time to gather up fruits of this year’s crop and save the seeds for the next year’s planting. This is why we eat apples, honey and the special khale baked with raisins. Reader: Yom Ha Din---Day of Judgment and the rebirth of our individual souls. For religious Jews, it is the beginning of the 10 day period in which God judges their deeds during the year just ended and inscribes their fate in the heavenly book for the year to come. For secular humanistic Jews, it is a time to judge ourselves, to rely on our conscience and our sense of common humanity to decide our fate. CANDLELIGHTING Reader: We light candles to dispel darkness, to herald celebrations, to encourage remembrance. Lighting candles on Rosh Hashana does all these and makes us one with Jews all over the world. Candlelighter 1: It is the symbolic birthday of the world. We feel awe at the beauty and grandeur of nature and the creativity and idealism of humanity. We celebrate creation and life. We seek answers to profound questions about our place in the world and the purpose of our lives. Reader: Judaism begins with the commandment “Hear of Israel.” But what does it really mean to hear? The person who attends a concert thinking about only work, All read: Hears, but does not really hear. The person who walks amidst the songs of birds and thinks only of noisy city streets, All read: Hears, but does not really hear. The person who listens to the words of family or friends and does not catch the note of urgency; “Notice me, help me, care about me.” All read: Hears but does not really hear. The person who listens to the news and thinks only of how it will affect the stock market, All read: Hears but does not really hear. The person who stifles the sounds of conscience and says enough has been done, All read: Hears but does not really hear. And so, as the New Year begins, may we listen to and hear the music of the world, the infant’s cry and the lover’s sigh. May we hear the call for help from the lonely ones among us and the sound of the breaking heart. May we hear the words of our friends and also their unspoken dreams. May we hear within ourselves the yearnings that are struggling to be expressed. May we hear each other. All read: For only if we do, will we have the right to hope that anyone will hear us. Adapted from Harold Kushner and Jack Reimer, New Prayers for the High Holy Days Candlelighter 2: Today is the symbolic birthday of humanity. We are beginning a new year that is one more step in our long history. We build on what has gone before. We strive to understand the varied experiences of our people and discover their timeless values. Our own people, the Jewish people, have developed diverse traditions as we have journeyed through time and to various lands. We celebrate that diversity. On a day in which we feel at one with all Jews, we also express our solidarity with the human family. Reader: We will now sing in Yiddish Ale Mentchen Zaynen Brider---All Men are Brothers. Music from Beethoven’s 9th symphony, words from the great secular Yiddish writer, intellectual and social activist, I.L. Peretz.

All sing:


Verse: Ale mentchn zaynen brider: All human beings are brothers Gele, broyne, shvartse, vayse. Yellow, brown, black and white Felker rasn un klimatn, Different races, people climates S’iz an oysgetrakhte mayse. Have no real meaning Chorus: Vayse, broyn, shvartse, gele, White, brown, black and yellow Misht di farbn oys tsuzamen. Stir and mix these hues together Ale mentchn zaynen brider, Human beings are all brothers Fun eyn tatn, fun eyn mamen. Children of the same parents. Verse: Ale mentchn zaynen brider, All human beings are brothers Shvartse, vayse, broyne gele. Black, white, brown and yellow Andersh zaynen nor di farbn, All’s that different are the colors Di nature is dokh di zelbe. But all are the same nature Repeat Chorus Candlelighter 3: Today is the symbolic birthday of the Jewish people. Let us nourish our Jewish roots. As I. L. Peretz said: “A people without memory is like an individual with amnesia. Our memory is our history and without it we cannot grow wiser or better.” It is the power of memory that insures our continuity. Reader: Judaism is a continued symphony that each Jew may either swell with harmony or mar with discord. It is a symphony which echoes forth to the world Judaism’s faith in humanity’s possibilities for good and our power of regeneration to a nobler future. The past is a foundation on which Jews have to continue building and developing, in keeping with what has been achieved by the master builders of the past. The past is my heritage. The present my responsibility. The future my challenge as a Jew. David de Sola Pool (1885-1970), American Sephardic rabbi Candlelighter 4: Today is the symbolic birthday of our individual souls—our neshuma. It is a time when we reflect on our own shortcomings and our goals. The next ten days are traditionally a time when we admit the wrongs we have done, ask forgiveness from those we have hurt and resolve not to make the same mistakes. Reader: At the same time, we may reflect on how much our well-being depends on the deeds of others. Albert Einstein put it this way: “Strange is our situation here upon Earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why…From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know…that people are here for the sake of other people…for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day I realize how much my own outer and inner life is built upon the labor of my fellow men and women, both living and dead and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received and am still receiving.” Reader: We will now sing Day Is Done, written by Peter Yarrow, the Jewish third of Peter, Paul and Mary. He also wrote “Light One Candle, ” a song that we and many other Jews sing on Chanukah. All sing:


Tell me why you’re crying my son. I know you’re frightened like every one Is it the thunder in the distance you fear? Will it help if I stay very near? I am here. Chorus: And if you take my hand my son All will be well if the day is done (repeat) Day is done (when the day is done) (4X) You ask me why I’m sighing my son? You shall inherit what your elders have done. In a world filled with sorrow and woe If you ask why this is so, I really don’t know. Chorus: And if you take my hand…. Tell me why you’re smiling my son. Is there a secret you can tell every one? Do you know more than those who are wise? Can you see what we all must disguise, through your loving eyes. Chorus: And if you take my hand… Reader:


As one with our forebears we affirm that Righteousness and enlightenment shall be our torch. We shall teach these values diligently to our children All the days of our lives. We shall endeavor to live by these values In the comfort of our homes or on cold windswept roads. Whether adversity bows our heads or fulfillment makes our spirit soar, Our hands shall mete out justice to all And our eyes shall be open to the light of truth. We shall emblazon our paths through life With this light, as a beacon for all humanity! Eva Goldfinger, madrikha, Oraynu Congregation for Secular Humanistic Judaism, Toronto HOW TO NUMBER OUR DAYS Reader: Let us consider our good fortune for having lived through the year in health and with peace. May we continue with endeavors that protect and strengthen us and sanctify and beautify our lives. Let us carefully select the treasures of past generations and use them to enrich our understanding of ourselves. And let us pass those treasures on to future generations, enhanced by our own achievements. May we come to understand that not upon fortune does our destiny depend, but on the love we share with others. May the regeneration of character and conscience strengthen our hope in the establishment of peace on earth. May we do our part to make this hope a reality. All sing: HINEY MAY TOV (How good and pleasant it is for people to live together in unity) Hin-ey ma-tov u-ma-nayim She-vet a-khim gam ya-khad Reader: Was there love in our home Or was the affectionate word left unsaid? Was there real companionship with our children Or was there a living together and a growing apart? Were we a help to our mates Or did we take them for granted? How was it with our friends? Were we there when they needed us? Were we sensitive to the rights and feelings of others? Did we mind our business? Or did we feel the heartbreak of others? Reader: Do not withhold good from one who deserves it, when you have the power to do good. Do not say to your fellow, “Come back again; I will give to you tomorrow” when you can give to him today. Do not devise harm against your fellow who lives trustfully with you. Do not quarrel with a man for no cause when he has done you no harm. Do not envy a lawless man or choose any of his ways. Proverbs 3:37-31 Reader: MERGER: A VISION OF THE FUTURE And then all that has divided will merge And then compassion will be wedded to power. And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind And then both men and women will be gentle. And then both women and men will be strong. And then no person will be subject to another’s will And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many And then all will share equally in the earth’s abundance And then all will care for the sick and the old And then all will nourish the young And then all will cherish life’s creatures And then all will live in harmony with each other and the earth And then everywhere will be called Eden once again. Jewish poet and artist, Judy Chicago.

All sing:


Insert music and words

Reader: (Introduce speaker) Speaker: Message MEMORIAL Reader: Many of our loved ones are no longer with us. Although we miss them, nothing can compensate for their absence. However, their worthy deeds remain in our memory to sweeten our thoughts and mitigate the pain of separation. May those whom the years bound to us with ties of deep affection live on in our hearts and minds. All: May the memory of our loved ones enrich our lives. (At this time you are invited to mention anyone you wish to memorialize.) Reader: NOT WITHOUT A TRACE I shall not disappear without a trace; Within your hearts my flame shall find a place. I’ll carry this great truth across the earth; That we are holy, yes, beyond all worth. From land to land I’ll seek my radiant goal. Till we reach the heights of our own soul, Till every demon shall be overthrown And freedom come at last into its own. The path I choose leads on from heart to heart No, not without a trace shall I depart; The treasures of my life are yours to keep The harvest of my days is yours to reap. For it was your unfathomed life to me, Showed what a giant this poor dwarf might be. Not everything I reach for can be mine, Yet this I know-- at least I’ll have a sign. In every miracle of my refrain I see your footprints--all you ageless pain Is mine now; all your laughter I’ve embraced. I know--- my life shall never be erased. Ber Green (translated from the Yiddish by Aaron Kramer)

All sing:


May the work they did speak for them (2X) If they fell short of their goal, someone else will take a hold. May the work that did speak for them. May the friends that they made speak for them. May the songs that they sang speak of them. May the lives that they touched speak for them. Repeat first verse. Reader: Zaykhor Tsadikim Leevrakha…The remembrance of good people is a blessing to us.


Reader: Here, tonight, gathered together, We celebrate creation and life. We ask how our lives have changed and How we may change the quality of our lives. What is firmly established cannot be uprooted. What is firmly grasped cannot slip away. It will be honored from generation to generation Reader: Rabban Yohanan asked his disciples to reflect upon the highest good a person should strive to attain. Rabbi Eliezer said: “Generosity.” Rabbi Joshua said: “Friendship.” Rabbi Yose said: “Concern for one’s neighbor.” Rabbi Simeon said: “Considering the consequences of one’s actions.” Rabbi Elazar said: “A kind heart.” Rabban Yohanan replied: “I prefer the opinion of Rabbi Elazar, because all of your views are embodied in his.” Pirkey Avot 2:12 (from the Talmud) All: Cultivate these in yourself and they will be real. Cultivate these in the family and they will abound. Cultivate these in the community and they will grow. Cultivate these in the nation and the world and they will be abundant. All Sing (to the melody of Amazing Grace): We now conclude our Erev Rosh Hashana observance with


Sha-lom kha-ver -im, sha-lom kha-ver-im Sha-lom, sha-lom Li-hit ra-ot, le-hit ra-ot Sha-lom, sha-lom (Peace, dear friends, until we meet again.) You are invited to join us for our Yom Kippur observance in this location 10 days from now, followed a few days later by our Succos/Succot celebration in the South Mountain Reservation. .

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.