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Jewish New Year Is Filled With Hope : Religion: Rosh Hashanah observers are uplifted by the historic peace pact between Israel and the PLO.


Members of Ventura County's Jewish community gathered Thursday at local synagogues to herald Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, which coincides this week with the signing of a historic peace agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

"The new year brings high hopes and new opportunities," said Rabbi Shimon Paskow of Temple Etz Chaim in Thousand Oaks, where more than 2,000 people attended three services to mark the beginning of the High Holy Days.

Rosh Hashanah is a time for self-examination and spiritual renewal, Paskow said. The 10-day holiday culminates with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, beginning this year at sundown on Sept. 24.

Rosh Hashanah services were also scheduled Thursday at Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks and Temple Beth Torah, the county's largest synagogue, in Ventura. Sharon Harold of Newbury Park, who attended services at Temple Etz Chaim, said Thursday's celebration was made more special by the Middle East peace pact that was signed this week.

"You can't help but be optimistic," Harold said. "It adds a little more hope."

Paskow said he was also encouraged. "It was an amazing scene to see Yasser Arafat, chairman of the PLO, and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin shaking hands on the White House lawn," he said.

But Aharon Markowitz, accompanied by son Ben, 4, was more skeptical.

"I think it makes the people here feel better. But that's about it," Markowitz said of the Middle East peace pact. "You can't change years of hatred, anger and misunderstanding overnight. I think it's going to take a generation or two before we have peace over there."

Inside Temple Etz Chaim, Nissim Elbaz, director of the temple's Torah School, led a special afternoon service for children and their parents.

" Shalom means peace," Elbaz said in greeting the 400 people who had gathered for the afternoon service. "When we say the word this year, the word should take on greater meaning because we may actually see real peace. Shalom between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

"It's the beginning of a new year, a new era, a new book, without anything written in it," Elbaz said. "It's up to you to write your own report card."

For 10-year-old Micha Dekofsky, this year's celebration held special meaning. Micha visited Jerusalem this past summer where he got a firsthand look at the warring tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Micha saw armed soldiers walking the streets and fighter jets thundering overhead as he and other children played on the beach, said his mother Cheri Dekofsky.

"It's a whole different world," she said. "It's so hard to imagine."

While in Jerusalem, Dekofsky said she purchased for her son a shofar, a hollowed ram's horn. The beginning of the Jewish new year is traditionally marked by blasts from the wind instrument.

Micha practiced for weeks to prepare for the service marking Rosh Hashanah, his mother said. "At first, he sounded like a sick moose, but then he got better."

On Thursday, Micha and several other boys and girls finally got the chance to share the joy of their new instrument. "It's easy," Micha said before joining the others at the front of the congregation. "If you can play the trumpet, you can play one of these."

Moments later, Micha stood proudly before the congregation as he raised the two-foot-long curled horn to his lips and blew with all his might, signaling the beginning of a new year that they prayed would bring a new era of peace.

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