ROCHESTER, MN (FOX 47) – Rochester has a quite an amalgamation of vibrant religious communities. And one of those groups of people of faith are those who practice Judaism.
September 24th, is a special day; as Rosh Hashanah is the start of the Jewish new year. It's actually a two-day celebration, which begins on the first day of “Tishrei.” “Tishrei” is believed to be the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve. Rabbi Michelle Werner of “B'nai Israel Synagogue,” gave “FOX in the Morning” an in-depth look at this day full of history and mystery.
“Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish new year and it literally translates into 'head of the year' and Yom Kippur is the 'Day of Atonement',” explained Werner. “It's a block of a holy day period. So it actually begins on September 20th, where we have a late evening service that's a service of forgiveness and the holy day period is about self-reflection, looking inside ourselves, determining what we have accomplished, and where we may have fallen short in the previous year,” Werner said.
“Rosh Hashanah ushers in the new year. Then we have ten days of reflection, which conclude with Yom Kippur, which is a day of fasting and prayer and a day of atonement,” said Werner. Traditionally, although we don't believe it literally, we ask God to inscribe us in the 'Book of Life' for a new year of life. And we ask that our names be sealed on Yom Kippur for that new year of life with a lot of beautiful traditions that evoke these things. When we eat the challa, which is the traditional round bread we eat, we dip apples in honey and we wish one another a sweet and healthy new year.”
As with almost any monotheistic religion, there are many deep-seated traditions that underscore the lineage of a faith: generation to generation. “On Rosh Hashanah, we have a service. All of our holy days begin at sundown. From sundown Wednesday evening, we will have a service and we will also have a Thursday morning service,” explained Werner. “We bring a cantor down from the cities who provides us with the traditional music of the holy days. We reflect on our shortcomings and prayers of collective confession are said. On Yom Kippur, which is ten days after Rosh Hashanah, we have a day of fasting. We have an evening worship service and then starting at 8:30 the following morning, on the day of Yom Kippur, we have services and study, reflection and healing and memorial services throughout the entire day until we break the fast together as a community,” said Werner.
Although she has practiced Judaism all of her life, Rabbi Werner did not have the ministry in mind, as a career at first. “I worked as a writing teacher and ran a writing lab in the American University in Paris. I worked in a cooking school in France, helping students on their professional paths, including
in their field training placements. I then lived in New Zealand for a few years. After that, I went from New Zealand to Jerusalem to begin study to become a rabbi. The 'Reformed Jewish Movement' sends all of the first year students to Israel. I did my first year of rabbinical studies in Jerusalem, actually during the second intifada and then I went to Cincinnati and was ordained there,” said Werner. I had aimed for the rabbinical school in the 1980's, but I went to Europe instead and spent 15 years in France. I was always drawn to Judaism. I've studied and been a member of communities in every place I have lived: all 15 cities. This was just a natural outgrowth of something that I had been toying with for 20 years,” Werner stated.
Since the day it was declared, Israel has seen many different conflicts. And now, with the advent of the terror group ISIS, the climate of between various groups with different beliefs, continues to become more hostile. “FOX in the Morning” asked Rabbi Werner if she thought prayer was the answer to stop all of the violence and sadness. “I'm not sure that prayers should be thought of as 'we ask for something and get what we ask for.' Prayer is about seeking comfort and finding God as a source of strength,” Werner said.
Before we left, we asked the rabbi, we asked her to share her hope for the future of Judaism.
“Well, I hope the Jewish people and everything that's important to Judaism will continue,” said Werner. I hope that people cherish and love this tradition as much as I do. And I try and teach our children to be proud and to be able to understand what's important. We value life, we value joy, we celebrate joy. Even in the darkest holy days, we have an inclusion in the spirit of joy,” stated Werner. “We believe that when we ask for forgiveness from God, we will be forgiven. So, there is something very powerful and very uplifting about this tradition. And I try and transmit that to generations to come.”