Rabbi Shalom Bochner and the members of Congregation Beth Shalom are preparing for the High Holidays.
The congregation meets at 1705 Sherwood Ave., Modesto, and is getting ready to celebrate Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot and Simchat Torah.
“I came here in 2013, literally as a guest rabbi for the weekend,” explained Bochner, who will now be serving the community for his 10th High Holidays.
“We are the only Jewish community with a building and a rabbi between Stockton and Fresno,” he added. “We literally draw from many different counties; the community has been based in Modesto since 1918.”
Attendees come from Modesto, Turlock, Oakdale, Manteca, Sonora and the foothills, while another family that attends regularly lives in Los Banos.
For many attendees, it’s not uncommon to travel an hour each way to attend services.
“Merced has a smaller (Jewish) community but not a building,” Bochner explained. “We are the only brick and mortar for a long way around.”
The center on Sherwood has recently undergone a significant remodel, he said, something that hadn’t happened in decades.
“We changed the configuration of the space to use flexible seating rather than pews; we rebuilt the entire eastern wall with actual Jerusalem stone imported from the middle east,” the rabbi noted. “Beautiful hanging lights modeled after Moroccan tea lights give the space this middle eastern energy … we went from a nice space to really reflecting the origins of Judaism.”
The significant overhaul of the whole space will help open up opportunities for the congregation to do additional programs.
“We have been a traditional Jewish community, but now more and more, we are a cultural center for Jews and non-Jews. One of the unique attributes of our community, you meet a tremendous number of people who are not of Jewish culture that are still interested in Jewish food, music.”
They also have an 800-book Holocaust research library, with the books donated by the family of a Holocaust survivor.
All are welcome to attend services and learn more about the Jewish community, culture and faith.
Rosh HaShana runs from Sunday night, Sept. 25 through Tuesday, Sept. 27. Yom Kippur will be observed Tuesday night, Oct. 4 and Wednesday, Oct. 5 while the Sukkot and Simchat Torah run from Sunday, Oct. 9 through Tuesday, Oct. 18.
Each has special meaning and more information about the accompanying services can be obtained by calling Congregation Beth Shalom at 209-571-6060 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Rosh HaShana is the start of the Jewish New Year, a time, said Bochner, that is designed to be used for introspection.
“Our new year is actually a very introspective period that begins focusing on returning to be our true best self,” he said. “One week later is Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the whole year for Jews … 25 hours of fasting, no food, no water, no liquid of any kind, and a number of activities designed to push down on the body to elevate the soul and focus on the deeper meaning of our lives.”
Sukkot and Simchat Torah are the culminating point for three weeks of holiday activity.
“It’s an all-out celebration of the new year and incredibly unique,” Bochner said.