Start At Sundown.
Yom Kippur ends season on Sept. 16.
by Kevin Walters
Hattiesburg American Staff Writer
Hattiesburg, Mississippi - For Celso Cukierkorn, rabbi of Hattiesburg's Temple B'nai Israel, the start of the Jewish High Holy Days at sundown tonight is a busy time as he prepares his sermons for the hundreds of people who will visit the synagogue in the coming weeks.
The Jewish High Holy Days, which begin with Rosh Hashana today and end Sept. 16 with Yom Kippur, offer millions of Jews a chance to celebrate the coming year and ask forgiveness from those they've wronged.
But the holidays frame the anniversary of Sept. 11 and come as tensions remain high in the Middle East.
The bloodshed since Sept. 11 horrified Cukierkorn but the tragedies were nothing new to Jews.
"I think America learned what Judaism knew for thousands of years," Cukierkorn, 32, said. "There is evil in the world."
Kevin Passer, 47, president of the synagogue, said thoughts of terrorism aren't far from most Jews' minds throughout the year and not just during the season of introspection and reflection.
"Israel's been dealing with this for 50 years," Passer said. "I think it's a good reminder that we've still got some work to do."
Yet in Hattiesburg, Cukierkorn, a native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, found there is religious toleration. Though Hattiesburg is a small city, there is room for others with differing views and religions, he said.
"Hattiesburg is a great place to live," Cukierkorn said. "I have no knowledge of any kind of problem ever. Just the opposite. People are very welcoming and very nice."
The congregation at the Temple B'nai Israel will increase for services as its 150-180 families arrive to partake of Rosh Hashana traditions, such as eating apples dipped in honey, symbolizing the sweetness of the coming year.
But crowds at the Temple B'nai Israel, one of only two synagogues in Mississippi to have a rabbi, are usually well attended every week. On average 30 percent of the synagogue's families regularly attend services compared with the national average of 9 percent to 14 percent, Cukierkorn said.
"The South is known because it's a place where people care about God, for sure," Cukierkorn said.
Late Thursday Hattiesburg resident Debbie O'Donnell, 52, was helping prepare the synagogue for the crowds that would come through.
"Rosh Hashana is my favorite," O'Donnell said. "I love the music. I love certain songs that we sing on these holidays."