Southern California rabbis used their Rosh Hashanah pulpits to speak on globalization, Africa's drought-ridden refugees and America's hurricane-drenched evacuees as well as Israel's Gaza pullout.
"This was a terrible year. 5765 was a terrible year!" said Rabbi Elazar Mushkin of the Orthodox shul Young Israel of Century City.
Mushkin's Pico Boulevard shul had an LAPD patrol car stationed in front, with plainclothes police checking congregants entering the security-rich back door. Inside, toddlers ran to and from their parents sitting in separate sections; a small boy wearing an NBA kippa saw the ram's horn being prepared, smiled and whispered to his father, "Shofar!"
Strong security was evident elsewhere, too, in the wake of an investigation into an alleged local terrorist cell. Police reported no Rosh Hashanah incidents.
Security also was tight further down Pico Boulevard at the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the adjacent Yeshiva University of Los Angeles high school. In the school's small, book-lined sanctuary, Wiesenthal Center associate dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper was part of a packed and solemn prayer service on Rosh Hashanah's first day.
Another Jewish institution on Pico Boulevard, Rancho Park's Reform shul Temple Isaiah, held its High Holiday services at the nearby Century Plaza Hotel, where hundreds of worshippers filled the Plaza's downstairs ballroom.
Rabbi Zoe Klein spoke about Hurricane Katrina, gay marriage, the U.S. Supreme Court's changing face and other tikkun olam matters close to this traditionally Democratic-leaning Westside shul.
"A flood emphasizes loneliness, it separates people," said Klein, who talked of how life can collapse like a huppah.
"The collapsible huppah is ready to relocate, to evacuate at the threat of hurricane. To take your place in fifteen hours of traffic...before the water moves in," said Klein, according to her sermon text.
She also spoke of Gaza: "To pack your home, pack your synagogues, and unbury your dead in your cemeteries in order to resettle outside of Gaza. Taking everything before the Arab neighbor moves in...The world is a shattered glass, and it is a holy obligation to piece it back together."
In another part of town, on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, a non-entertainment industry congregation enjoyed a small post-service line-up of bread and sliced apples at the annual free High Holiday services at The Laugh Factory.
Sermons at other shuls emphasized traditional High Holiday themes such as charity and reaching out to the non-Jewish world. In separate sermons, rabbis at two Reform shuls -- Wilshire Boulevard Temple near Koreatown and Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills -- quoted from the Emma Lazarus poem "The New Colussus," famed for its Statue of Liberty-inscribed words, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..."
In the San Fernando Valley, Rabbi Steve Jacobs marked his final High Holiday services for Kol Tikvah worshippers, while Ed Feinstein presided over his first High Holidays as senior rabbi at Conservative Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.
"When all is said from this pulpit over the next ten days, and in the remaining months until I retire on July 1," Jacobs said. "I will finish my career grateful to you and the memories we have created together...I learned as a child that life is not only a puzzle to solve. but also a mystery to embrace."
"At certain times in my 40 years as a rabbi, I frankly did not find much solace in hearing 'God has his reasons,'" said Jacobs, according to the text of his Erev Rosh Hashanah sermon. "To be honest, faith is not an easy or steady possession. I am, even as a rabbi, assaulted by anguished doubt."
At Valley Beth Shalom, Rabbi Feinstein focused on American power abroad and globalization.
"Globalization makes people feel powerless...and people who feel that way can be dangerous," said Feinstein, according to a copy of his sermon. "Tribalism is one response to globalization. Terrorism is another. Society does not have to guarantee equality of income, or wealth, or even opportunity. Society must assure equality of dignity...
"God is the author of history. This was Isaiah's most powerful idea," Feinstein said. "Either we use our global power to construct a world of justice, or we face a future of never-ending warfare, and ultimately the destruction of our own civilization. Choose between the future prophesied by Isaiah, or the future predicted by Mohammed Atta and Osama bin Laden."
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