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Reform synagogue welcomes all-comers for New Year

  • Rabbi Riqi Kosovske, of Beit Ahavah in Florence, and her son, Chanina, toss bits of bread into the Mill River during a Tashlich ceremony in 2015 on the first day of Rosh Hashana. Tashlich is a Hebrew word meaning “to cast” or “casting off,” and the ceremony — traditionally held at the edge of a body of water on the first day of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year — is a symbolic casting away of sins. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Rabbi Raquel S. (Riqi) Kosovske of Beit Ahavah prepares to lead a Shabbat morning musical service and Torah reading in Florence as part of the reform synagogue’s 20th anniversary, or “Ahaversary,” May 12. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO



Staff Writer
Monday, September 10, 2018

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Lauri Meade’s last name. The photo of Rabbi Riqi Kosovske and her son throwing bread into the Mill River gave the wrong date; it was taken in 2015. 

NORTHAMPTON — With the commencement of Rosh Hashana, Beit Ahavah, the Reform synagogue of Greater Northampton, is welcoming the Jewish New Year with an open door to the community at large.

Rosh Hashana, which marks the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days and New Year, serves as a time of celebration, reflection and atonement in the Jewish faith.

“This is really our time of the year when we begin the new year afresh,” said Beit Ahavah Rabbi Riqi Kosovske, “and the Jewish tradition guides us and teaches us that we do this by reflecting on our own paths, our own patterns, our own faults — our own places where we need to work on ourselves to make ourselves better people for ourselves, our relationships, the world and also for our relationship with God and our connection to God.”

According to Lauri Meade, chairwoman of the synagogue’s High Holy Days Committee, Beit Ahavah’s open doors are a vital aspect of the synagogue’s mission.

“We really encourage anyone who’s curious, who maybe hasn’t been to shul since they were a little child, or maybe has a friend who’s Jewish and would like to come along,” Meade said. “We have a very open door for people to come and experience High Holy Days in any way that is meaningful to them.”

“People may not be praying as a Jew every week, and that’s just fine with us,” she added. “If you want to wander in during the year, or during this time, it’s fine. Whatever is meaningful to people.”

Mary Stanton, who serves as a member of the High Holy Days committee, began her journey as a congregant as a result of this principle.

Stanton, who was previously not religious as an adult, said she was introduced to Beit Ahavah when she attended a service with a friend and felt a deeper connection to both the synagogue and Judaism.

“(Judaism) is really a religion that I can read about, internalize and question, and in my previous religious experience, questioning wasn’t really part of your spirituality,” Stanton said. “It was kind of, ‘this is what you believe,’ and I don’t feel that here.”

Founded in 1998, the synagogue is now celebrating its 21st observance of the High Holy Days with its usual open invitation to the community.

This year, Rosh Hashana lasts from Sunday evening through Tuesday evening. As a Reform Judaism synagogue, Beit Ahavah observes the first day of Tishrei, while Orthodox synagogues typically observe two days.

As part of the new year, congregants will observe traditions such as prayer, singing, the blowing of the shofar, an ancient instrument made from the horn of a ram, and Taschlich, a ceremony in which Jewish people throw bread into water to symbolize “the idea of throwing away things we want to get rid of,” such as painful memories or bad habits, Meade said.

The synagogue will also be holding a fundraiser for local Puerto Rican evacuees who are still awaiting assistance following Hurricane Maria.

Alongside its acceptance of all community members, Kosovske said, social justice has played a prominent role in Beit Ahavah’s services and community, which also reveals itself in the synagogue’s observance of the High Holy Days. In the over 20 years that the synagogue has existed, Beit Ahavah has not only grown in membership, but has also evolved along with Reform Judaism to incorporate greater egalitarian language and social justice concepts.

“In our community, there’s been a lot of shifts,” Kosovske said. “People tend to be very concerned about what’s going on in the world ... We tend to come together as a place to collectively feel our awareness, and to share our sadness but also to share our joy as we figure out what we’re going to do in the year to come to overcome societal problems together, so it’s a very inspiring kind of High Holidays.”

Ultimately, Stanton reflected, her experience as a congregant has led to a sense of belonging that she had not previously experienced with religion.

“As a child I was raised Catholic, and it didn’t feel like home,” Stanton said. “This feels like home.”

  Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvogh el@gazettenet.com.