The world has offered many reminders in recent months of the dangers facing Jews in America. But some Orange County rabbis preparing sermons for services tonight marking Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, are deliberately steering away from drawing lessons or warnings.
This is to reflect, they say, on Jewish tradition and becoming a better person.
"The goal in Judaism is to make this into a better world," said Rabbi Neal Weinberg of Temple Judea in Laguna Hills. "Before we can heal the world, we have to heal ourselves."
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday September 17, 1999 Orange County Edition Metro Part B Page 4 Metro Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Synagogue--A Sept. 10 story about Rosh Hashana services in Orange County misidentified Heidi Cohen's synagogue. She is assistant rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom in Santa Ana.
But security will be on the minds of many as they attend synagogue today.
The High Holy Days, which include the two most sacred days of the Jewish calendar--Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur--draw more than half of the nation's 6 million Jews to synagogues, compared to roughly 15% who regularly attend weekly Shabbat services, according to a 1998 Los Angeles Times poll of American Jews.
Given the number of Jews who attend the services, some rabbis are tightening security.
Arnold Rachlis, of University Synagogue in Irvine, said that for the first time his synagogue will have guards.
"We're having them be visible," he said. "Not because I expect any incident, but it's to make those who might be fearful feel more comfortable."
Bunnie Mauldin, executive director of the Orange County Jewish Federation, acknowledged that among the synagogues in Orange County, "there is a general feeling that extra security would be helpful."
This year the Orange County Jewish Federation held a workshop on security for synagogues. The workshop included representatives from the FBI and Costa Mesa Police SWAT team, and the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.
Rachlis said it's important not to let a few deranged individuals stop Jews from gathering and praying. The High Holy Days "are really about celebrating the grandeur of creation," he said. "I refuse to have these people take away the essence of the holiday."
Indeed, Weinberg of Temple Judea said he started to write a Rosh Hashana sermon about anti-Semitism, but stopped himself when he realized it sounded more like an editorial than a sermon.
"People are coming to synagogue because they're in pain in their own lives," he said. "They need guidance on how to mend their relationships. That's what people are coming for."
Rabbi Bernard King of Congregation Shir Ha Ma'alot in Irvine agrees. He won't focus on the spate of violence--including the recent attack on the North Valley Jewish Community Center, arson fires at three Sacramento synagogues, a bomb threat in Palo Alto and a racially motivated shooting spree in the Midwest.
King said that if it's dangerous to be a Jew, then Jews must create as many opportunities as possible to experience the joys of being Jewish.
"I think we need to be on guard, to defend ourselves," he said. "But we also need to use this as a wake-up call to deepen ourselves Jewishly so that we don't give our enemies the control of whether we live healthy, happy Jewish lives."
So rather than dwelling on the violence, King is focusing his congregation inward. "Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are a time of introspection and reconciliation," he said. "It's a time to become more loving, sharing human beings."
Many rabbis plan to draw similar lessons while addressing the acts directed against Jews in Sacramento, Chicago and Granada Hills. Among them is Heidi Cohen of Temple Beth Tikvah in Fullerton, who will remind her congregation that they too need to be more tolerant.
Cohen notes that tolerance includes patience with an elderly driver or a new supermarket checker. Cohen said she will ask her congregation to take an inventory of their tolerance level and encourage them to reflect on how they can appreciate those around them. "We're quick to give constructive criticism. Why is it so hard to tell people that we love them?"
Cohen also said it's important to keep the events of the past summer in perspective. She said they illustrate how comfortable Jews have become. And she emphasizes that Jews should not let themselves be intimidated by hate crimes. "We're not going to allow them to make us cower away and hide ourselves. We can't do that. We have to be as visible as we've always been."
Rabbi Ned Soltz of Temple Beth Tikvah in Fullerton agreed: "People throughout the ages have lived in far greater fear than we have. That's why we're taking it with greater astonishment, because it's really counter to this time in our history."
Soltz thinks it's important that he address the issue with his congregation. "It's on people's minds. People need to know that their concerns are being addressed. Once that is accomplished, their spiritual needs can be addressed."
Times staff writer Teresa Watanabe contributed to this story.