By Wendy Holdren
The Jewish community recently celebrated its new year, which isn’t filled with champagne and confetti, but with fasting and forgiveness.
The holiday starts with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and wraps up with Yom Kippur, a day of repentance.
Scott Gellman, a student rabbi at Hebrew Union College, joined worshippers at Temple Beth-El Sept. 13 for the Yom Kippur service.
“Rosh Hashanah is the new year. In that time, we really look forward to how our new year is going to be, like the secular new year,” Gellman explained.
“In the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we’re told to ask forgiveness from those we have wronged.”
Gellman said Yom Kippur is more specifically a time to ask forgiveness from God, to acknowledge the wrongdoings against the laws of the Jewish faith.
“It’s more somber than the secular new year. It’s more of a ‘holy day’ than a ‘holiday.’”
The “holy day” is also a day for the Jewish community to reflect on those no longer with them.
Honoring those who have passed away is an important part of the Jewish faith — memorial plaques line the walls of Temple Beth-El with the names of loved ones who have passed on.
Temple Beth-El President Tom Sopher said the temple’s Jewish community consists of about 40 families, from Lewisburg to Fayetteville.
There are only eight Jewish temples in the entire state, Sopher said, two in Charleston, and one each in Huntington, Bluefield, Beckley, Parkersburg, Morgantown and Martinsburg.
“Everybody works together to keep the doors open. It’s a special little place.”
Sopher and Gellman greeted each family, one by one, as they walked in for the Yom Kippur service.
“I actually wanted to work with a smaller synagogue,” Gellman said. “I wanted to work with one that was set and established. I’ve really got a devoted group of people.”
Sopher said the Temple was built in 1935, but Jewish families gathered at their homes long before then to practice their faith.
But these families are still glad to open their hearts and their homes, as Gellman stays with local families during his trips to Beckley.
Services are held once a month at the Temple and Yom Kippur marked Gellman’s third service in Beckley.
“It’s been wonderful so far. They house me in their homes, so I really get to experience their lives. It’s just incredible.”
In Judaism, the Sabbath is Friday, so Yom Kippur is considered “the Sabbath of Sabbaths” and is the holiest day of the year.
The benches were full for the service, with some worshippers draped in prayer cloths and some wearing yamakas.
“Tonight we focus on devotion and repentance,” Gellman started, “drawing closer to one another in love and closer to God in righteousness and truth.”
The “eternal light” was shining over the pulpit as Gellman spoke, a light that stays on all the time to represent God and the light inside of everyone.
Gellman invited a guest from the Greenbrier Academy of Girls to light the candles and begin the service.
Just behind the candles, a wooden chest called an Ark, stored the Jewish holy book, called the Torah.
The Temple Beth-El has two Torahs, and Sopher explained that the Torahs are hand written and can sometimes take a lifetime to write one.
He said the name “Sopher” actually means “scroll writer” and his family, who came from Russia and Poland to Baltimore, have written Torahs.
He also explained that at the time the Torah was written, idol worshipping and worshipping multiple gods was common practice, so the Torah was unique in its acknowledgment of only one God.
“The Eternal is Our God, The Eternal God is One,” the Torah reads.
Sopher said the main difference in Christianity and Judaism is that Jews do not believe the Messiah has come yet.
During the Yom Kippur service, Gellman spoke of how the Jewish Reform supports an egalitarian community, with equal rights for men, women, those with special needs, homosexuals, etc.
“We must stand up for those who need our help. To truly make a difference, we must act.”
Sopher said the doors are always open to the public for services and the next three will be held Oct. 25, Nov. 22 and Dec. 6 at 7:30 p.m. at Temple Beth-El, located at 208 Bellevue Lane, Beckley.
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