OAKLAND - A song celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish New Year, rang out in the Oakland Hills Friday evening, as a crowd sang and gathered outside for a unique service that has become a 15-year tradition in the Bay Area.
The golden glow of the sun and bright smiles on people's faces, brought light to the hills of Joaquin Miller Park as a crowd gathered for community, prayer, dancing, and music.
"It's so joyful to be here today with the entire community. We've got over 1,300 people here celebrating the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah," said Becca Meyer, CEO of Camp Tawonga.
"It's a beautiful place to celebrate the new year and It's really amazing to have so many Jewish people in one place outside enjoying things together so really happy to celebrate," said Margot Schmorak, who came from San Francisco with her children.
"Such a beautiful setting, it's wonderful to be outdoors and wonderful to be surrounded by community. This is such a happy event," said Jackie Zipkin, an Alameda resident who said this was her second time attending the event.
"This was actually that an idea that a child had," said Meyer, "Serena Dubach Reinhold said to her mother, can we blow the shofar in Tilden Park?"
Serena's mother Sue Reinhold and step-mother Rabbi Deborah Newbrun listened to Serena's idea and decided to gather outdoors with some close friends.
"She was just like, do we have to go to synagogue? And we're thinking, you know, we are capable of leading this service for our family," said Rabbi Newbrun.
The family's outdoor celebration in the Oakland with the ceremonial blowing of the shofar horn, has grown over the past 15 years into the large-scale celebration involving hundreds of families and community members.
"It's a way to help people bring out their soul, connect with the messages of the holiday so that they can be transformed by the gift and the technology that Judaism gives us to renew our lives," said Rabbi Newbrun.
"In Judaism, we have a word called ruach which is "spirit." And there's just a lot of ruach here," said Isaac Safier, an Oakland resident.
That spirit and introspection also come with hopes to put the past year's pain behind.
"It's definitely been a hard year to know that antisemitism is on the rise and many Jewish communities have been targeted by hate crimes and threats of violence," said Meyer.
"A recent study by the Jewish Community Relations Council revealed that one-third of Bay Area Jews have either directly experienced or witnessed incidents of antisemitism," said Seth Brysk, Chief Officer for External Affairs with the Jewish Community Federation.
Brysk says the Jewish Community Federation, has been helping Jewish groups do security checks to make them safer during this holy time, as people reflect on ways to make the world and new year better.
"These high holy days are sometimes called the days of awe. That's meant to evoke this notion that we should be humble, we should be introspecting, thinking about during this introspection of how we can do better in the year ahead," said Brysk, "That's what I'm really hoping for in the year to come."
"I'm Asian, and I'm also Jewish and...it's a double-whammy. Of course, we're always concerned about antisemitism but one of the things we can do is come together and enjoy life," said Schmorak, "I heard a...woman speak about this and she said 'I protest racism with radical joy' and I think that's what we're trying to do here too."
Rosh Hashanah lasts two days and begins the period of reflection that lasts ten days, ending with Yom Kippur on September 24th.