Polikoff: The Shofar calls us to come together as people

As with Chanukah and Purim, I grew up thinking that our current ritual observance of Rosh Hashanah was taken directly from the Torah. I later came to find that Rosh Hashanah (as we know it today) is not mentioned by name in the Torah. Nor is there any guidance on how to observe the holiday (other than it is a day of rest and there will be loud horn blasts).

Rosh Hashanah is referenced indirectly in the books of Leviticus and Numbers, in that the first day of the seventh month (Tishrei) is called “Yom Teru’ah” or the Day of the Blast (of the horns or Shofarot). The sounding of the Shofar is mentioned several times in the Torah. It was heard at Sinai, and it was common practice for the Israelites to utilize the horns for signifying the time to gather for festivals or to signal a time to go to war. So why is Rosh Hashanah on the first day of Tishrei? While, I am clearly not a Torah scholar; one observation that I recall suggests that the horn blasts on the first day of Tishrei may have been to notify the Israelites of the approach of Sukkot, the most significant holiday of the time. Sukkot is referred to as the “Holiday of ingathering,” which falls on the 15th of Tishrei, so it is plausible that the sounding of horns was to notify the Israelites that it was time to gather as one people.

Tragically there have been many events this past year, in our Jewish calendar, that should serve as a modern-day horn blast to our community, signaling a time and a need to gather. The repugnant slaughter of Jews in Pittsburgh and Poway, the attacks on religious pluralism at home and abroad, and the continued rise of white supremacist fueled domestic terrorism are, unfortunately, but a few of the sufficiently stirring alerts.

These blasts should be an ample catalyst for unity in our Jewish community. But despite our pressing need for solidarity, we continue to find ways to divide our community based on synagogue affiliation, country of origin, family dynamic, geography, and most recently along political lines. The inherent danger in this constant, and seemingly exponential, division is that we run the risk of losing sight of the culture, customs, and history that binds each of us together.

In 5780, let us be reminded that we are not simply a group of people who happen to be Jewish, we are the Jewish People, and we’ve been together for generations. We were at Sinai together, we established the State of Israel together, we rescued Jewish refugees together, and we built our current Greater Akron Jewish community – together. It is this collective memory that binds us as much today as it has throughout our history. It is not about “Who” we are (i.e. orthodox, reform, immigrant, gay, straight, etc.), but “What” we are…a link in the biblical and cultural chain that is the Jewish people!

May we come together to honor our past and to ensure a bright future for our community.

Happy New Year, may you be inscribed and sealed for a good year!