DePauw Jewish community celebrates High Holidays


Although Hanukkah may be the most well-known Jewish holiday, it is not a major holiday in Judaism.
The High Holidays, which include Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and the ten days between the two, are the most important days on the Jewish calendar, and they have nothing to do with presents.
"The High Holidays are about asking for forgiveness, not just from God but from everyone," said Adam Cohen, part-time coordinator for the Center for Spiritual Life. "God can never forgive you for the sins you commit against a different person."
The High Holidays begin with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year.
Rosh Hashana is a time of self-reflection before entering the period of repentance that follows.
During Rosh Hashana, Jewish people examine their actions over the past year and look for ways to become better members of their communities.
"You are required as a Jew, as a member of the community, to give back to the community," Cohen said.
A period of repentance follows Rosh Hashana. During these days, the Jewish people ask for forgiveness from those they have wronged.
"Repentance [in Judaism] is correcting a mistake or a wrong course of action," Cohen said.
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, concludes the High Holidays. The idea behind the day is passing before God for judgment. The most well-known part of the day to non-Jewish people is the day-long fast.
"There's not something that says you have to fast that day," said junior Alex Alfonso, president of Hillel, a Jewish student organization. "I fast because I feel Yom Kippur should be a day of reflection. Food is almost a distraction in that regard. When you feel you're hungry, it's a double reminder of what you're doing."
This year, Yom Kippur occurred from sundown Sept. 13 through sundown Sept. 14, in which many people spend the day praying in their synagogues. Many synagogues use Yom Kippur as a chance to give back to their communities.
"A lot of synagogues donate the food they would have eaten that day to local food banks," said Lance daSilva, the Jewish life coordinator.
Jewish people believe that if they observe the high holy days correctly, God will forgive their sins at the end of Yom Kippur.
"The best part of the holidays, for me, is when I'm done with the fast," sophomore Noam Rose said. "It's when I know I'm clean [free from sin]."
The high holidays are more than just a time for repentance, however. They are also a time for community and family. For first-years experiencing their High Holidays away from home for the first time, the small Greencastle Jewish community of about 26 people can be a shock.
"Judaism is a community-oriented faith," Cohen said. "There's a sense of loneliness. For a lot of students, that's hard."
Hillel often organizes trips to the Indianapolis during the holidays to help students experience a larger community. The trips also allow students to attend services lead by a rabbi, something they don't have on campus.
"We don't have a rabbi," said Cohen. "We rely on ourselves to make this happen."
Students like Alfonso and Rose read the prayers, both in Hebrew and English, while daSilva and Terry Noble, the music library manager, provide the music. Cohen gives a short sermon as well.
The Jewish community at DePauw also has to accommodate students who come from different backgrounds. Hillel tries to accommodate everyone by offering a variety of services and combining elements of different traditions into a single service during holidays.
"Some services are liberal, some are more conservative," Cohen said. "It's a compromise that's hard."
Although the structure of DePauw services differs from what students are used to, the prayers, holidays and meaning remain the same. For the Jewish people, the High Holidays are a time of community, self-reflection and repentance no matter where they are.