Optimism, hope mark start of Jewish holiday

BY DAVID JACOBS • djacobs@rgj.com • September 18, 2009

As Northern Nevada's Jewish community prepares to welcome in a new year tonight, Rabbi Mendel Cunin is offering a message of hope and optimism for all.

"This year, above all years, we know the hardships that people have gone through in the last year," said Cunin of Chabad of Northern Nevada. "But focus on the positives and contemplate, think about how America has been the kindest to all religions since the creation of man. It's been the country where everyone has the freedom, the choice of being religious."

"Nothing is perfect, but it's the best we've had so far," Cunin added. "Economies go up, go down, fortunes go up, go down, and you just stay positive, then you'll make it through all of the troubles. That is my message for the new year."

On Friday night, Jews will welcome in the new year — 5770 — with the start of Rosh Hashana. The Jewish holiday marking the new year starts at sundown and continues Saturday.

The holiday also kicks off the Days of Awe that connect Rosh Hashana with Yom Kippur, Judaism's holiest day. Yom Kippur begins the evening of Sept. 27 and runs through Sept. 28. That will be followed by celebration of the fall harvest with the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which runs Oct. 3-9.

Jewish song

As the High Holy Days approach, Chabad is featuring a special guest in Reno, Rabbi Yosef Silverstein of Brooklyn, N.Y., who will serve as cantor beginning with Rosh Hashana.

"To me, it means a lot," he said. "When I get up there and do the prayers, I recognize that. I put a lot of emotion into it and try to (do) the best possible presentation in front of God, so to speak."

"God wants to hear from us," Silverstein added. "It's all about the sound..."

"When we're singing, and we're with happiness, it brings whatever message we're trying to give to God in a much better light, much more powerfully than if we are just sitting at home and thinking to ourselves, 'Oh, God. We need this, we need that,'" Silverstein said.

Good timing

This year marks the first Jewish fall holidays observed at the newly opened Chabad Regional Center. Off West Moana Lane, the center serves as hub for worshipping, education, Jewish culture and community outreach.

The timing ties in with Cunin's message for Rosh Hashana when the shofar — a ram's horn — also will be blown.

"The economy crashed on us in the middle (of construction), and everyone said 'Stop, don't continue.' I said, 'If I stop, this will be a bad sign for everybody.' We continued. We forged forward with the kindness of all of the contractors in town. They were able to be patient about getting paid, and we were able to complete the job with a positive note.

"We have a beautiful new synagogue," Cunin said. "I look at this new building as trailblazing for this new economy for the positive side of things, that things are going to get better."