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A Waterloo native will return to the metro area next week to lead High Holidays services at Sons of Jacob Synagogue.

Rabbi Ora Simon Schnitzer is chaplain at Alexian Brother Medical Center in Elk Grove Village, Ill. On Monday, she will lead Rosh Hashanah services at Sons of Jacob. The following week, she will lead Yom Kippur services on Sept. 18 and 19.

Schnitzer was born in Waterloo and lived at the synagogue parsonage. Her father, Rabbi Mordecai Simon, served the congregation from 1956 to 1963. When Schnitzer was 7, the family moved to the Chicago area.

Schnitzer graduated from the University of Illinois in 1979. She hoped to become a Conservative rabbi like her father, but such seminaries didn’t accept women. She earned a master of business administration degree from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

Fluent in Hebrew, Spanish and Aramaic, Schnitzer graduated in 2009 from Hebrew Seminary in Skokie, Ill. She gave her 2009 graduation address in English and American Sign Language.

The two-day observance of Rosh Hashanah, or Jewish new year, begins at sundown on Sunday evening. The time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur the following week comprises the 10-day period called High Holidays.

In the Jewish calendar, this marks Rosh Hashanah 5779. Judaism follows a lunar calendar in which the day begins at sundown and ends at sunrise, according to

Rosh Hashanah is a time for reflecting on faith in everyday life. According to Chabad, some refer to it as a time of remembrance or judgment. The first day includes Tashlich prayers in the afternoon.

In Hebrew, Tashlich means “cast away.” The prayers are recited near flowing water to symbolize casting away of sins.

Often, Tashlich services include scriptural readings, writes Rabbi Gary M. Spero in “Tashlich: A History of the Ritual and Modern Ceremony. This includes Micah 7:19: “He will take us back in love; he will cover up our iniquities. You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.”

Another Rosh Hashanah tradition revolves around partaking of symbolic foods. Dishes made with apples and honey are staples for many, with the combination representing hopes for a sweet new year. A common way to celebrate is by dipping apple slices in honey.

Considered the central holiday of Judaism, Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. Whereas Rosh Hashanah is festive, Yom Kippur is more contemplative.

Among those who take part in Yom Kippur, 53 percent will observe the traditional 25-hour fast, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Other traditions related to the holiday include abstaining from work, bathing and other practices.

Kol Nidrei, a communal prayer service, opens Yom Kippur. In Hebew, “Kol Nidrei” means “all vows.” According to, the legal ritual is believed to have developed during early medieval times, resulting from persecution of Jews.

The period also includes worship services that employ the machzor, a prayer book used during holy days. The end of Yom Kippur is signified by the blowing of the shofar, or ram’s horn.

Karris Golden writes The Courier’s weekly faith and values column. Email her at


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