Jews will take stock of their lives and prepare to embrace the coming year with spiritual slates wiped clean during the High Holy Days, a 10-day observance that begins at sundown Friday.
Heralded by the harsh sound of the shofar, a ceremonial ram's-horn instrument, the period is a highly introspective time of repentence and renewal -- a time to turn away from sin and resolve to be a better person in the year to come.
"The idea is that if each individual can better his or her self, the world becomes a better place," said Rabbi Lisa S. Eiduson of Temple Beth Zion. "It is a time to tune my soul to greet the coming year."
The High Holy Days, also known as the Days of Awe, begin with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. They conclude Sept. 20 with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which is regarded as the most solemn day on the Jewish calendar.
Rosh Hashana, which marks the start of the Jewish year 5760, means "head or beginning of the year" in Hebrew and is characterized by joy and family celebrations as well as temple services.
To emphasize that a new year is beginning, some families wear new clothes or sample fruit that has just come into season, Rabbi Eiduson said.
The shofar, sounded at the start and at various times throughout the High Holy Days, "literally awakens us from spiritual slumber and creates in us an awareness," she said.
Like the secular New Year, Rosh Hashana is a time for celebration, Rabbi Eiduson said. But it also is a time for self-examination "to take stock in a critical way of one's life over the past year."
It is a time for people to ask themselves how they have acted with families, parents, friends and neighbors, she said.
Rabbi Eiduson describes Yom Kippur, regarded as "the sabbath of sabbaths," as a time when "saints and sinners come to the synagogue to ask communally for forgiveness."
One series of prayers recited during Yom Kippur services seeks forgiveness for "the sins that we have committed against you, O God."
"We all say them together in one voice and then have an opportunity to pray privately," she said.
Music also plays an important part in the services, creating a mood and tone that inspires introspection.
Rabbi Eiduson likes to explain the thrust of the High Holy Days in terms of the Hebrew words for sin and repentence.
In Hebrew, she said, the word for sin, "chet," means "missing the mark." The word for repentence, "teshuvah," means "to turn."
"The High Holy Days remind us that we have to turn from sinning -- from missing the mark," she said.
The solemnity of Yom Kippur is emphasized by a 24-hour total fast for all physically able adults.
In conjunction with the fast, Temple Beth Zion conducts a food drive on Yom Kippur, collecting hundreds of pounds of food that is given to area shelters and food pantries.
"The idea is that even as I am purifying my own soul, I can reach out to help others," Rabbi Eiduson said.
Although it is a solemn day, Yom Kippur is not supposed to be a sad day because the underlying theme is renewal, the rabbi said.
"Yom Kippur is supposed to remind us that the gates of repentence are always open, that every day you are supposed to go to God for repentence and that we should always act as though each day is our last day," she said.
Because Yom Kippur is such a high-profile holy day, there is an erroneous perception, even among some Jews, that Jews recite prayers for forgiveness only once a year.
"You don't have to save it up. Jews should pray every day for forgiveness," said Rabbi Eiduson.
Although Temple Beth Zion's offices are located in the Broder Center for Jewish Education in Amherst, its religious services are held in the downtown Buffalo synagogue at 805 Delaware Ave. To accommodate the crowds, some services will be scheduled back to back, and others will be conducted simultaneously.
During the High Holy Days, Rabbi Eiduson said, members of Temple Beth Zion will pray for "health and happiness for everyone, not just Jews, in the year to come."