Blowing the shofar at Congregation Beth Israel before the pandemic. Image courtesy Beth Israel

The 5781th year in the Jewish calendar begins at sundown on Friday, Sept. 18, with Rosh Hashanah 2020 services taking place online or out-of-doors at most San Diego-area congregations amid the pandemic.

Congregation Beth Israel, the largest Jewish congregation in San Diego and the oldest in Southern California, noted that it is a Jewish principle to place people’s safety over Jewish law or customs regarding worship.

“There is no way to replace the physical and emotional presence of attending the synagogue alongside our family, friends and congregants, especially during High Holy Days,” said Senior Rabbi Jason Nevarez. “However, these are unusual times and we must adapt, be realistic, and re-imagine how to observe the High Holy Days safely, yet meaningfully, in times of this pandemic.”

Rosh Hashanah means literally “head of the year” in Hebrew. It marks the beginning of a 10-day period of prayer, self-examination, and repentance ending with Yom Kippur, which is known as the Day of Atonement.

The year begins at sundown because the ancient Jewish calendar is based on phases of the moon.

Customs observed on Rosh Hashanah include sounding the shofar, a musical instrument made from a ram’s horn, and eating apples and honey for a sweet new year.

Tashlich, one practice associated with Rosh Hashanah, is a ceremony in which Jews symbolically cast away their sins by tossing pieces of bread into a flowing body of water. This year, Beth Israel has scheduled a socially-distanced “Tashlich on the go.”

The San Diego Jewish Journal provides an online listing of 2020 high holiday services at local congregations.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.