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Reb Betsy Roth on Her First High Holy Days Services

And what these days mean to Jews

Bay Weekly You’ve just held your first service for Beit Chaverim [bejt xAvajr\im], Calvert’s Jewish community.

Reb Betsy Roth This is my first position as spiritual leader. I’m in my fifth year of rabbinical studies, so I’ve asked to be called reb until I’m ordained. If you were close to your rabbi in the old country, reb is like saying daddy rather than father. I’ve just met the congregation — I live in Montgomery County — and they were very friendly.

Bay Weekly This is a big time for all Jewish people, as well as for you …

Reb Betsy Roth Rosh Hashanah, on October 3 this year, is our new year. It means literally the head of the year, and it seems to coincide with the school year, so it’s a good time to get things started. It’s more a spiritual beginning than the new year in January, and it’s celebrated much differently, with introspection and spirituality.

Bay Weekly What year is it?

Reb Betsy Roth 5777.

Bay Weekly Rosh Hashanah also starts the High Holy Days …

Reb Betsy Roth It opens up our 10 Days of Awe, leading to the Day of Atonement on October 12 this year, when we do a personal assessment and make amends. We fast sundown to sundown, and we pray for our god and ourselves and fellow humans.

Bay Weekly What do you want to happen to people in these 10 Days of Awe?

Reb Betsy Roth I would like for the community to be able to embrace spirituality and for each person to find their path to forgiveness within their family and with God.

Bay Weekly What’s your role in helping your congregation reach that goal?

Reb Betsy Roth Judaism is a very communal religion; we were tribal. A community creates ties one to another, and with that come care and concern. We create support for one another when we come together to pray. On Yom Kippur, when we confess our transgressions publicly — as a community out loud — no one person feels the brunt because you are surrounded and supported.

Bay Weekly So nobody is singled out as the scapegoat?

Reb Betsy Roth We have a list of faults, and when each is read, we have our fists over our hearts and we beat or breast slightly to help remove the heaviness from within us. That’s why community is so important.
    I promise it won’t be just doom and gloom. It’s going to be conducted with warmth, humor, music and singing, with many people doing readings and prayers. I like people to take part, to feel invested. Those elements will hopefully raise us up.

Bay Weekly If a person who was not Jewish wanted to join you?'

Reb Betsy Roth In this day and age we want to create a comfort zone for everybody. So many people have interfaith families. Anyone who wants to pray with us would be welcome. Any place you invite God into becomes a holy place by intention of the heart within.

Congregation Beit Chaverim: Services are held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Prince Frederick. Information about services or membership: 410-586-0090.