Jewish ceremonies reflect on importance of the sun

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Nearly three dozen people from the Chabad of Southampton Jewish Center in Southampton Village and the Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach took a few moments from their busy schedules on Wednesday morning to reflect on the sun and its role in the creation of the universe.

Wednesday marked the day of Birkat Hachamah, a Hebrew term for the Blessing of the Sun. Jewish tradition explains that the holiday celebrates the day the sun returns to the exact position in the sky when it was first created by God, Rabbi Avraham Bronstein of the Hampton Synagogue explained during an early morning service at Rogers Beach in the village.

Such an event occurs only once every 28 years, the span of the Rabbinic solar cycle, according to Rabbi Bronstein.

Birkat Hachamah has added significance this year because Wednesday was also Passover Eve, or Erev Pesach in Hebrew, Rabbi Bronstein said. Both holidays focus on birth: Birkat Hachamah is about the birth of the universe, while Passover celebrates the birth of the Jewish people when they were redeemed from Egypt and brought to the Land of Canaan.

The juxtaposition of Passover Eve and Birkat Hachamah last occurred in 1925 and, before that, in 1309, according to Rabbi Bronstein.

About 25 members of the Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach gathered at 7 a.m. Wednesday at the pavilion at Rogers Beach, ignoring the cool winds whipping off the Atlantic, to take part in the ceremony.

“I don’t think I’ll see it the next time—I’ll be 98,” said Leona Cohen of Westhampton Beach, a member of the synagogue.

Nearly a dozen people who attended the Birkat Hachamah ceremony at the Chabad of Southampton Jewish Center on Hill Street in Southampton Village stood in the parking lot of the center to take special notice of the sun. That ceremony was organized by Rabbi Rafe Konikov, the leader of the Chabad of Southampton Jewish Center. Both rabbis held services at their respective places of worship following their outdoor ceremonies.

Rabbi Konikov explained that two blessings make up the 10- to 15-minute outdoor ceremony. The first blessing is one that thanks God for creating the wonders of the world and especially the sun. The second blessing thanks God for allowing each person to attend the special ceremony.

Because the Chabad of Southampton was only officially created in 1996, and the Hampton Synagogue has been around only since 1990, this year’s Birkat Hachamah is the first one ever to be celebrated in Southampton Town.

“Twenty-eight years ago, there was no Jewish community in Southampton Township participating in this type of ceremony,” Rabbi Konikov said. “It’s historic for Southampton.”

Rabbi Konikov said that many people overlook the importance of the sun, which is responsible for all life on the planet. Similarly, many people forget about all of the blessings that are present in their life, such as their good health and family, Rabbi Konikov said. The ceremony for Birkat Hachamah connects the two together and helps remind people of the blessings that they have but often take for granted.

The Hampton Synagogue’s decision to hold its ceremony on the beach was intended to emphasize the power of nature, and stress that the East End is home to many natural wonders, Rabbi Bronstein said.

“Who’s not inspired by seeing a sunrise over the beach?” Rabbi Bronstein said.

Rabbi Bronstein, who is 28, explained that he was 1 the last time that Birkat Hachamah was celebrated, in 1981. Rabbi Konikov explained in an e-mail that this is the 206th time that Birkat Hachamah has ever occurred in the history of the planet, because, according to Jewish tradition, the world is only 5,769 years old.

Some Jewish people believe that God made the sun at the start of the fourth of the seven days that it took to create the Earth, which, if one follows the modern organization of time, would have been a Wednesday, Rabbi Bronstein explained. That belief goes back to Genesis 1, the first book in the Old Testament of the Bible, that describes the creation of the universe.

Rabbi Bronstein cautioned that many Jews do not accept the creation story as literal truth; they accept it as an allegorical truth. “They would say that the Earth is 4.3 billion years old, from science,” Rabbi Bronstein said.

Isidore Schechter, 85, of New York City, who attended the Birkat Hachamah service at Rogers Beach, said that this is the fourth such ceremony he has been able to attend. At his first Birkat Hachamah, he was one year old, and at his second, he was 29, and at his third he was 57.

Mr. Schechter said that he attended the first Birkat Hachamah ceremony held in New York City, and that the event was similar to the one enjoyed at Rogers Beach on Wednesday morning.

“It’s a natural occasion that shows the greatness of God in the performance of miracles,” Mr. Schechter said. “I feel lucky to be here.”

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