Rosh Hashana the Jewish New Year Will Not be Celebrated at its Regular Venue at the Tree of Life Synagogue as Jewish Community Still Scarred From 2018 Massacre

A sign hangs on a fence surrounding the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019. The first anniversary of the shooting at the synagogue, that killed 11 worshippers, is Oct., 27, 2019. Authorities charged Robert Bowers, 47, a truck driver from Baldwin, Pennsylvania, in the attack that killed eight men and three women, and wounded seven others inside Tree of Life synagogue, where congregants from New Light and Dor Hadash also had gathered. Bowers has pleaded not guilty . He faces the death penalty if convicted. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

There will be some differences — and some constants — over the coming days as the New Light congregation observes Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, for the first time since three of its members were among 11 Jews killed by a gunman nearly a year ago at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

The man who last year blew New Light’s shofar, the ram’s horn trumpet traditionally sounded to welcome the High Holy Days, was among those killed. Richard Gottfried, 65, a dentist nearing retirement, was one of the congregation’s mainstays in reading the haftara, a biblical passage that follows the Torah reading.

In Gottfried’s place, the shofar will be blown this year by the congregation’s rabbi, Jonathan Perlman. And the venue for the services will not be the Tree of Life synagogue, the site of the massacre. All three congregations that shared space there have been worshipping at neighboring synagogues since the attack on Oct. 27, 2018.

However, Perlman’s wife, writer Beth Kissileff, said the congregation plans no changes in the substance of its services over the two-day holiday that starts Sunday evening.

“I feel conducting Rosh Hashana prayers as we have in the past is a form of spiritual resistance,” Kissileff said. “Part of our defiance of what the shooter was trying to do is to conduct our religious lives with as much normality as possible.”

A week ago, looking ahead to the New Year holiday, Kissileff wrote a first-person article for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency describing how her congregation was coping.

Referring to the shofar, she said the horn’s sounds are intended to resemble wailing.

“That won’t be hard; there is plenty to wail about this year,” she wrote. “We need to hear this wailing, and be induced to wail ourselves, so that we can change.”

She also noted that many members of the congregation, which numbers about 100 families, deepened engagement in their faith and their community over the past year by attending services more regularly, learning or relearning the skills needed to serve as cantors, or making an effort to learn Hebrew.

As Rosh Hashana arrives, Kissileff wrote, “all American Jews, shocked to our core at the resurgence of violent anti-Semitism here — a country to which our ancestors immigrated as a haven from such things in the rest of the world — will hear the shofar as a wail and scream.”