2018-10-06 / News

Synagogue Hosts Rosh Hashanah Celebration Marking Jewish New Year

By Stephanie Fortino


Robert Spitzer (left) and Derek Grossman prepare the Torah scroll for the Rosh Hashanah ceremony, as Mendy Shepherd looks on. The Torah was donated to the Synagogue Kehillat Hatzav Hagadol, and Dr. Spitzer believes it was rescued from an eastern European synagogue after World War II. Torah scrolls are written by hand on parchment, and sections of the text are ancient, dating to the Dead Sea Scrolls that are more than 2,000 years old. (Photographs by Christi Dupre) Robert Spitzer (left) and Derek Grossman prepare the Torah scroll for the Rosh Hashanah ceremony, as Mendy Shepherd looks on. The Torah was donated to the Synagogue Kehillat Hatzav Hagadol, and Dr. Spitzer believes it was rescued from an eastern European synagogue after World War II. Torah scrolls are written by hand on parchment, and sections of the text are ancient, dating to the Dead Sea Scrolls that are more than 2,000 years old. (Photographs by Christi Dupre) Prayers, worship, and Kosher food marked the Jewish New Year services at Grand Hotel this year, as the Island’s summer synagogue celebrated Rosh Hashanah in September. The Synagogue Kehillat Hatzav Hagadol, which translates to the Congregation of the Great Turtle, is organized by resident Robert Spitzer, who has plans for more regular services and celebrations next year.

Rosh Hashanah marks the Jewish New Year. This year it was followed closely by the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. Yom Kippur is a day of fasting and pensive prayers, Dr. Spitzer explained. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are ancient biblical holidays. The holidays move throughout the regular calendar year because the Jewish calendar is based on the lunar calendar, allowing the religious events coincide with the cycle of planting and harvesting.


Rabbi David Shepherd blows shofar, a ram’s horn used in Jewish religious ceremonies, while his son, Mendy Shepherd, reads from a religious text. Rabbi David Shepherd blows shofar, a ram’s horn used in Jewish religious ceremonies, while his son, Mendy Shepherd, reads from a religious text. The Jewish New Year is different than the secular New Year celebrations, he said, as it is a time of reflection, when people pray to do better in the year ahead.

About 20 people attended the Rosh Hashanah celebration, which was held at Grand Hotel this year. The hotel provided a dining area, a small section of the kitchen to handle the kosher food, and a meeting room for the prayer services, which were held Sunday night, September 9, through Wednesday morning, September 12.

Rosh Hashanah celebrations have been held here about six times, with different visiting rabbis leading prayers.

The Island’s Jewish holiday gatherings are open to everyone. A range of Jewish people attended, from devote practitioners who follow the kosher dietary restrictions to those who do not attend temple regularly. An important component of the Island celebrations is making sure everyone who attends is comfortable, Dr. Spitzer said, and includes offering kosher food.

During celebrations held the past few years, an Orthodox rabbi has traveled here with his family and stayed throughout the holiday to provide prayer services. During the services, the rabbi read from the synagogue’s Torah scroll and blew the shofar, a ram’s horn.

Over the years, the synagogue also developed a relationship with kosher caterers from the Detroit area, who work with rabbis to have food brought to the Island for special events. During Rosh Hashanah, the rabbi supervised the preparation of the kosher food, ensuring it was properly handled and stored.

To cover the cost of the food and other expenses, attendees paid a fee to participate in Rosh Hashanah.

The Synagogue Kehillat Hatzav Hagadol provides services to Island residents and workers throughout the summer, and the temple seeks to connect with Jewish people in other nearby communities, as well. The rabbi services are scarce and scattered in Northern Michigan, Dr. Spitzer said, noting some synagogues have part-time rabbis. Hosting regional services, such as the Rosh Hashanah celebration, helps serve the needs of area Jewish people.

Island services and celebrations are also attended by Jewish tourists, as visitors seek to mark the Sabbath or other holidays during their vacations. Next summer, Dr. Spitzer and some other volunteers with the synagogue hope to reestablish regular summer services. The group also plans to host special events and recruit speakers for talks that would be open to the public.

The Rosh Hashanah celebration was planned in about six weeks, and Dr. Spitzer said the synagogue received many responses from people interested in attending. As awareness of the synagogue increases, he hopes to draw more interest from those in cities with large Jewish populations, like Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and New York, as well as communities in California.

Dr. Spitzer has also been working with local businesses to provide goods to the Jewish community. Many kosher items are already available at Doud’s Market, he said, and owner Andrew Doud has been happy to order more products for the Island’s Jewish population. Visitors with dietary concerns can also contact Dr. Spitzer ahead of their trips, he said, noting certain items can be ordered and ready on the Island by the time they arrive.

Dr. Spitzer also gives advice on where Jewish visitors can stay on the Island, as he often recommends accommodations that feature kitchenettes so they have an option to prepare their own food according to kosher regulations.

Dr. Spitzer hopes to grow the services in the future and is investigating other locations where services can be held. In the past, services have also been held at the Trinity Episcopal Church parish hall.

To learn more about the synagogue and to contact Dr. Spitzer, visit the congregation’s Web site at https://mackinacsynagogue.org.

Return to top

Click here for digital edition
2018-10-06 digital edition