BANGOR, Maine — The last time the Jewish High Holidays began as the sun set on Sept. 4, it was 1899. The next time it does after this week’s services will be in 2089.
When asked why Rosh Hashanah is so early this year, Rabbi Darah Lerner of Congregation Beth El on French Street had an answer ready.
“It’s at exactly the same time every year,” the Reform rabbi said Tuesday.
Literally translated, Rosh Hashanah means “head of the year” and marks the beginning of the year 5774. The holiday moves each year on the Gregorian calendar used in the secular world because Jews use a lunar calendar.
There are 354 days in the Hebrew calendar and 365.25 in the solar calendar. While an extra day is inserted every four years into the Gregorian calendar, an extra month is added to the Jewish calendar every 19 years, Lerner said.
Yom Kippur, which begins at sundown on Friday, Sept. 13, and Rosh Hashanah, which begins Wednesday at sundown, make up the Jewish High Holy Days. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is observed with prayer, introspection, fasting and repentance.
“Rosh Hashanah begins a process of reflection for Jews,” Lerner said Tuesday. “It’s a time to look forward to a sweet year and a time to look back to see if we’ve had the year we wanted.”
During a service on Thursday, the shofar, made of a ram’s horn, will be blown in the synagogue, the rabbi said.
“It is a spiritual alarm clock that calls us to reflect and repent,” the rabbi said. “It’s a wake-up call meant to prepare us for the work of the season.”
Jews have an obligation to hear it, not to blow the shofar, she said.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are two of a few days each year when Jews are called to worship in community led by a rabbi and cantor rather than by lay leaders. Other holidays, including Passover and Hanukkah, are celebrated at home.
The blowing of the shofar also acclaims God as ruler of the universe and recalls the divine revelation at Sinai, where God made Israel his people and gave them the terms of his Covenant.
It is customary for many to recite penitential prayers at a river, symbolically casting their sins into the river in a ceremony called tashlikh. No work is permitted on Rosh Hashanah and many Jews spend much of the day in synagogues.
Eating apples dipped in honey so the new year will be sweet is traditional, Lerner said.