By Anna Gustafson
Music, poetry and laughter rang through a room at the Forest Hills Atria Saturday afternoon as more than 60 city residents ushered in year 5770 on the Jewish calendar.
The non-traditional celebration sponsored by the Queens Community for Cultural Judaism included a rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” poems contemplating new beginnings and a telling of Woody Allen’s comical version of the story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son — a tale inevitably met with many chuckles.
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, is the first of the High Holidays and marks the start of the civil year on the Hebrew calendar. The High Holidays are days set aside to focus on repentance that end with Yom Kippur, which falls on Sept. 28 this year.
“Humanistic Jews see Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as an affirmation of human power and human dignity,” QCCJ President Edward Klein said at the ceremony. “The High Holidays are a time to consider the possibilities for change, for improvement, for happiness that we human beings can create for ourselves. Acknowledging human courage and independence, we achieve human dignity.”
Jackson Heights resident Charlotte Weiss, a member of the QCCJ, said she especially appreciates the secular ceremony. While she is not religious, she said she heavily identifies as a Jew and with Jewish culture and considers such ceremonies as those associated with Rosh Hashanah to play an important role in her life.
“I get very pensive this time of year, and I think about what has happened and about the things I’d like to have done differently,” she said.
Astoria resident Milton Weiner, also a QCCJ member, said he fell out of favor with religion following his experiences in the Great Depression and World War II but said the desire for the fraternity frequently surrounding religious activities remained.
“There is a need for community and connectiveness with other people,” Weiner said.
During the ceremony, celebrants engaged in the traditional shofar blowing. The shofar, an instrument made from a ram’s horn, is blown on Rosh Hashanah to symbolize the waking up of individuals in an effort to get them to focus on repentance.
Nina Gordon, the QCCJ vice president and musical director, led the individuals in such songs as Pete Seeger’s “Turn! Turn! Turn!” Gordon also read poetry, including “The Head of the Year” by Marge Piercy.
“Forgive the dead year,” Gordon said, reading Piercy’s poem. “Forgive yourself. What will be wants to push through your fingers.”
Klein helped to wrap up the festivities with Allen’s Abraham story in which God tells Abraham he was only joking when he told him to sacrifice his son, Isaac.
“‘But doth this not prove I love thee, that I was willing to donate mine only son on thy whim?’” Klein read from Allen’s story.
“And the Lord said, ‘It proves that some men will follow any order no matter how asinine as long as it comes from a resonant, well-modulated voice,’” Klein read to much laughter.
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.