Traditional Rosh Hashana services altered to address last week's terrorism and loss


"God Bless America" replaced a traditional Hebrew hymn, and the entire congregation joined in a mourner's prayer last night at Baltimore's Har Sinai temple as Rosh Hashana services marked the Jewish New Year and the start of the faith's 10-day High Holy Days period.

Such changes in the traditional services, the sermons by rabbis and increased police patrols outside synagogues throughout the Baltimore area reflected a new reality of terrorism and loss in America in the wake of the Sept. 11 airplane hijackings and attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon.

The patrols were particularly evident along Park Heights Avenue, home to several congregations, including Har Sinai, a Reform temple.

"Let us not lose our humanity in the face of the inhumanity of others," Har Sinai Rabbi Floyd L. Herman said during his sermon.

Herman said the United States should take a measured response, and he was glad that America's reaction had not included an immediate attack.

Those responsible for the attacks last week "may have been Muslims and may have been Arabs," the rabbi said, "but they do not represent all Muslims and all Arabs."

The congregation was visibly moved in the singing of "God Bless America," instead of the hymn "Adon Olom" to end the two-hour service. In another departure, everyone joined in saying kaddish -- the mourner's prayer usually recited by those who have lost relatives or friends.

Across the area, rabbis have said they would weave the themes of the holiday -- reconciliation and accountability, prayer, righteousness and justice -- with the national experience of the last week that has cast a pallor of sorrow on the usually festive air of Rosh Hashana.

Rabbi Mona Decker of the Bolton Street Synagogue filed away a "cheery" sermon she had written about having an appreciation of all new things and wrote another that weaves those themes together, she said.

"I think we are all in pain," Decker said. "These events have affected each and every one of us."

Rabbi Seymour Essrog of Adat Chaim Congregation in Reisterstown said earlier in the day he expected the celebration to be solemn.

"If they don't bring that solemnity from themselves, they're going to hear it from my sermon and other sermons," he said.

Although the joy of the holiday might be muted, some rabbis said they believe it was their responsibility to help people move on from the sadness.

"My sermon will deal with the theme that you have to live," said Essrog, who saw the nation as going through a time of "communal mourning and communal confusion." He said he also planned to touch on the need to pick up the pieces and hope for a better year.

Sun staff writers Liz Bowie, David Rosenthal, Jason Song and Laurie Willis contributed to this article.

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