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Retreat goals include informing students about Judaism

Sept. 25, 2003

By Amy Leigh Washburn, reporter

Saturday marks the beginning of the year 5765 for Jews across the world. It is the beginning of a new year and a new start for all. It is Rosh Hashana.

Rosh Hashana is unlike new year traditions in other cultures. '[It is] unique because it is both serious and festive,' according to the Everything Jewish Web site.

It is a time for Jews to find spiritual renewal, to spend time with family and friends and to recognize God as their king and judge.

Jews must take time before Rosh Hashana to make an inward and outward spiritual journey before entering the new year. Many Jews spend the month preceding Rosh Hashana, called Elul, fulfilling a threefold journey of repentance, prayer and charity.

'The Jewish new year is a time to begin introspection, looking back at the mistakes of the past year and planning the changes to make in a new year,' according to the Judaism 101 Web site.

Traditionally, Jews are not allowed to work on Rosh Hashana, but spend most of the day in the synagogue with their families. It is one of the holiest days of the year.

One of the most important and oldest traditions of Rosh Hashana is the blowing of the shofar, or ram's horn, in the synagogue. The shofar reminds Jews of the ram God provided for the biblical character Abraham to sacrifice in place of his own son, Isaac. It is a call to repentance for Jews.

The Web site said that Jews feel God's name is too sacred to say or spell out completely, so they substitute a dash for the 'o' in God.

'We pray that like Abraham, G_d will spare out-lives and the lives of those we love,' according to the Everything Jewish Web site.

Tashlikh, or 'casting off,' is another important Rosh Hashana tradition dating back to the Middle Ages. It 'symbolizes throwing off your sin,' Robert Watson, ,an El Paso junior said.

One of Rosh Hashana's more lighthearted traditions is eating apples dipped in honey, symbolizing the desire for a sweet new year.

Rosh Hashana is followed by the Days of Awe, also known as High Holy Days and, finally, Yom Kippur, another Jewish holiday.

Lauren Sellers, a San Antonio junior, has been meeting with Watson for the past several weeks to explore more about the Jewish culture, history and religion.

'I have a Christian background ... but by being open, I can learn more about my faith as well as Judaism,' Sellers said.

This weekend people can join together to celebrate and reflect on traditions from three different faiths at the Three Mountain Retreat Center.

The People of the Book Rosh Hashana retreat, sponsored by the Center for American and Jewish Studies, was created to celebrate Rosh Hashana and to 'introduce ourselves to different faith traditions and to each other, [so that] we can try to understand each other better,' Dr. Marc Ellis, professor of American and Jewish studies, said.

Ellis arranged for speakers of each Abrahamic religion, Islam, Judaism and Christianity, to lecture at the retreat.

The retreat will emphasize three themes, according to the center, including God's sovereignty, the divine/human relationship and the religious vision.

While the three faiths will be sharing their traditions, they will not be combining them. Ellis said the retreat is geared toward 'introducing Christian and Muslim students to Jewish traditions.'

'The primary aim of the Rosh Hashana retreat is to introduce Jewish studies and Jewish life as part of the tapestry of Baylor University,' Ellis said. 'It's about what we can learn from each other,' Watson said.

The Rosh Hashana Retreat will take place on Friday and Saturday in Clifton and costs $20.