A special Rosh HaShana celebration was held in the Hebrew speaking communities in Israel this year. The Apostolic Nuncio to Israel, Mgr. Antonio Franco, came to the celebration.

 

This year in our communities a celebration of the Hebrew New Year (Rosh HaShana) was held on the second day of Rosh HaShana, September 20, 2009. About 140 members of the different communities throughout Israel – from Jerusalem, Beer Sheba, Tel Aviv – Jaffa, Haifa, Latroun and Tiberias, Hebrew speakers and Russian speakers, came together in Ein Karem, in the Convent of the Sisters of Sion.

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On this occasion, three young women from one family from the Haifa community received baptism and two other members received confirmation, one from the Haifa community and the other from Tiberius. The Eucharist was celebrated by Father David, responsible for the communities in Israel, and alongside him the Apostolic Nuncio (the Ambassador of the Vatican) and another fifteen priests, those responsible for the various communities and those who are active in them. The choir that sang was composed of members of the different communities under the talented supervision of Myriam from the Haifa community.

In his words during the homily, Father David underlined the significance of Rosh HaShana for our communities. He also explained the meaning of celebrating baptism on this day (the remembrance on Rosh HaShana of the creation and the new creation that takes place at baptism) and likewise of celebrating confirmation (the Spirit hovering over the waters at the creation of the world as well as the Spirit the God breathed into the nostrils of Adam on creating humanity and the renewed gift of Spirit in confirmation). He also mentioned the presence of two new priests in the communities (Father Gioele from Italy and Father Wieslaw from Poland) as another gift for the New Year.

In his homily, and in referring to the readings, Father David quoted from the first reading (Deuteronomy 30:15-20): "See I have set before you today life and prosperity... blessing... Choose life!" God wants us to choose life, good and blessing! On Rosh HaShana we remember that we have a good Father, tender and merciful, who wants for us only good. However, he knows us as was mentioned in the psalm that was read by the community (Psalm 103): "For he knows how we were made, he remembers that we are dust". Indeed we come before him as sinners and we ask the grace of repentance because we are capable of nothing without him. What is needed more than all else is to open ourselves to him because he is the source of all good as is described in the second reading that was heard (James 3:16 – 4:3): "Wisdom from above... is pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy". We must open ourselves and we must be opened to the water we receive at baptism, the Spirit we receive at confirmation, to the Word of God we hear in the Scriptures and to the bread and wine we receive in the Eucharist. If we open ourselves to all this we will be changed and we will be more in the image and likeness of God. In the reading from the Gospel (Mark 9:30-37), Jesus once again sets before us a child. Why is a child often exemplary for Jesus? Perhaps because a child gives exquisite expression to this openness, to the willingness to be open, to express trust and to believe. Let us pray that this year we will indeed be able to open ourselves anew like children towards both God and our fellow human beings so that we might build up our communities and be built up in them.

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After the homily, the three young women – Danielle, Elinore and Hadas – received baptism. Standing next to them were their godparents from the Haifa community and their proud mother – Shula – who is herself a child of our Hebrew speaking communities in Israel. Shula, the child of a Polish Catholic family that settled in Israel, grew up in the community in Beer Sheba. At the end of the baptism ceremony, the two candidates – Larissa and Isaac – received confirmation. Alongside Larissa stood her father who was visiting from Belorussia.

Before the end of the mass, the Apostolic Nuncio, Mgr. Franco, addressed those present with moving words. He greeted all, wishing them a happy new year and he insisted that our communities are very important both to the Holy See and to the local Church in the Holy Land. He encouraged the communities to grow and develop and to transmit the joy and peace we find in our communities and in our faith to the society in which we live. He noted that this was the first time that he was praying among us but that we had a special place in his heart and in his prayers.

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After the mass, the faithful went out of the church to witness the blessing of the first autumn rains. They drank a toast to the new year and shared apples with honey and pomegranates, the traditional foods for the feast. They then opened their knapsacks and brought out their picnic lunches and broke up into groups to chatter together and renew friendships. The atmosphere was one of celebration and joy especially for the children who met up again after the summer children's camp.

At 14.15, the adults gathered again in the church and there enjoyed a fascinating lecture on the Jewish feasts in the month of Tishrei (first month of the Jewish year), given by Dr. Emmanuel Main, a well known lecturer in Jewish history in Israel and abroad as well as a member of the Jerusalem community. She prepared slides that she projected from her computer and that helped to explain the significance of the feasts (Rosh HaShana, the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles and the Rejoicing of the Law). She emphasized how important it is to understand the feasts of Israel in order to understand the life of Jesus, son of his people Israel, who certainly celebrated these same feasts.

After the lecture, those present divided up into discussion groups. The subject was: "To correct myself, to ask forgiveness and to begin again are elements that are emphasized on the Jewish New Year. These same elements are the foundations of Christian community life. How do I correct myself, ask for forgiveness and begin again each time anew?" The discussion that ensued was yet another opportunity to get to know one another better and to build up the communities together.

While the adults were discussing serious matters, the youth and children were engaged in games. Michal, from the Jerusalem community, organized them and combined various elements from the feast into the games.

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The day ended with a prayer animated by Father Roman from the Haifa community. Again, Myriam and the choir helped us pray. The five who had received sacraments (baptism or confirmation) stood before the assembly and thanked the Lord in a special way. After the blessing, the assembly broke up and each went his or her separate way… happy and enriched we hope and ready for a new year which might  be full of good things, sweet, happy and full of faith and blessing… may it be God's will!