Friday, September 10, 2021

Rosh Hashanah and Mah Jongg

Rosh Hashanah and Mah Jongg

At Jewish Newport

Rosh Hashanah 2021

                                                                By Aaron Ginsburg

Edited by Vicki Kaplan

Also at

About 50 members and visitors celebrated the first day of Rosh Hashanah at Newport’s Touro Synagogue on Wednesday, September 7th, 2021. 

One of the highlights of the service is the blowing of the shofar. Why do we do it? Rabbi Marc Mandel explained,

“As we know, on Rosh Hashanah we sound the shofar. Rosh hashanah means the beginning of a new year. But it's not always easy to bounce forward into a new year. Resilience is our ability to face hardship and respond in a way that allows us to move forward. How can we be resilient as we face personal challenges?

“Cheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, wrote a book called “Option B” after her husband passed away. She says that resilience is not a fixed personality trait. It can be cultivated and learned.

“I believe this is one of the purposes of the shofar. The shofar was sounded during times of battle as a way to inspire and embolden people. As we begin a New Year, let us pray that the shofar will help us find resilience and strength to guide us into the new year.”

Rabbi Mandel and Saul Woythaler shared shofar blowing duty. If the quality and loudness of a shofar’s sound could induce resilience, we were covered. Any ram would be proud to have supplied Saul’s shofar, which was so long it seemed to reach to the heavens. Ably blown by Saul, it’s notes filled the synagogue and carried us higher. 

Later a sheet of paper floated down from the balcony. On it was printed the song, Oyfn Pripetshik, one of Judaism’s greatest hits.I was familiar with it because my parents had a book of Jewish music for us to play on our piano.  I knew that it was a beautiful melody and dealt with learning the alphabet, but it is much more,

On the hearth, a fire burns,

And in the house it is warm.

And the rabbi is teaching little children,

The alphabet.


See, children, remember, dear ones,

What you learn here;

Repeat and repeat yet again,

"Komets-alef: o!"

Learn, children, with great enthusiasm.

So I instruct you;

He among you who learns Hebrew pronunciation faster -

He will receive a flag.

Learn children, don't be afraid,

Every beginning is hard;

Lucky is the one has learned Torah,

What more does a person need?

When you grow older, children,

You will understand by yourselves,

How many tears lie in these letters,

And how much lament.

When you, children, will bear the Exile,

And will be exhausted,

May you derive strength from these letters,

Look in at them!

It was written by Mark Warshawsky 1848-1907. Warshawsky was a lawyer. His songs spread through the grapevine, and Oyfn Pripetshik became one of the most popular songs among the Jews of eastern Europe by the end of the 19th century.

Under the leadership of Irene Glasser, the women hummed Oyfn Pripetshik as we began and during the recitation of Unetaneh Tokef

Unetaneh Tokef is an ancient piyyut which is recited before the Rosh Hashanah musaf amidah. A copy from the 8th century was found in the Cairo Genizah.

It speaks of God. "There's a wonderful line in Unetaneh Tokef: 'A great shofar sounds, and a still small voice is heard.' Here is God Himself, blowing the shofar. He doesn't scream in your ears; it's a still small voice. And then it says, 'The angels tremble.' That still small voice is what terrifies the angels. Not the big noise. But if God whispers in your ear and tells you you're an angel, that's terrifying. You think to yourself, 'Wow, I could be that big and look how small I am.'" [from a 2014 interview with Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the U.K.] 

It speaks of man. “It is true that You are their Creator and You know their inclination, for they are flesh and blood. A man's origin is from dust and his destiny is back to dust, at risk of his life he earns his bread; he is likened to a broken shard, withering grass, a fading flower, a passing shade, a dissipating cloud, a blowing wind, flying dust, and a fleeting dream."

And it speaks of the future. “On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed – how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die after a long life and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword and who by beast, who by famine and who by thirst, who by upheaval] and who by plague, who by strangling and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted. But Repentance, Prayer, and Charity mitigate the severity of the Decree."

After we listen to Unetaneh Tokef we certainly are in need of resilience to confront our uncertain future.

One theme of the High Holidays is to deal with our less than perfect behavior from the previous year and make a fresh start.

Now, dear reader, I need your advice. As part of my fresh start I have been asked to do something new and different by Rabbi and Jackie Mandel. 

They want me to learn a new game, Mah Jongg! 

Rabbi Mandel took me to the Mah Jongg table and explained how easy it was, although by the time he finished, I wasn’t so sure. Jackie pointed out how nice it was to socialize during a game, although the Rabbi preferred it to be quiet so he can concentrate.

So, readers, what is your advice? Should I learn how to play mahjong?

Jewish Newport wishes you Shanah Tovah U'metukah שנה טובה ומתוקה‎, a good and sweet year, and a year of enjoyable Mah Jongg games!

Thank you to wikipedia for the translations.

Thank you to wikipedia for translations.