At sundown Friday, Jews around the world will begin the observance of Rosh Hashanah, the two-day Jewish New Year holiday that marks the start of the 10-day period of the High Holidays.
"It's not a day of getting drunk or parties or going crazy," said Rabbi Hertzel Illulian, director of the JEM Center in Beverly Hills, an outreach organization. "It's a happy day, but a serious day" because it marks the start of the Ten Days of Repentance, when, according to tradition, people’s fates are decided.
Services ushering in the year 5770 on the Hebrew calendar begin at sundown with the blowing of the shofar, a ram's horn.
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In a message marking the holiday, President Barack Obama said that "Rosh Hashanah marks the start of a new year, a time of humble prayer, joyful celebration, and hope for a new beginning.
"Ten days later, Yom Kippur stands as a day of reflection and repentance. And this sacred time provides not just an opportunity for individual renewal and reconciliation, but for families, communities and even nations to heal old divisions, seek new understandings, and come together to build a better world for our children and grandchildren."
The president urged citizens to "resist prejudice, intolerance, and indifference in whatever forms they may take. Let us stand up strongly to the scourge of anti-Semitism, which is still prevalent in far too many corners of our world."
High Holy Days services draw much larger attendance than weekly Sabbath services, so many congregations use hotel ballrooms, high school auditoriums, churches and other facilities for their services. And security at all these locations is traditionally beefed up during the High Holidays because of a history of terrorism and other acts of anti-Semitism.