SONS OF JACOB SYNAGOGUE/Courtesy Photo
With the commencement of the fall semester, both returning and new students are met with droves of diverse organizations to join or events to attend. In addition to searching for involvement opportunities on campus, students can turn to the surrounding community for places to connect with others and participate in activities that meet their interests.
Sons of Jacob (SOJ) synagogue in Waterloo welcomes all for their celebration of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, what are referred to as High Holidays in the Jewish faith. To celebrate these traditions, SOJ is hosting a special guest in what they are calling a “High Holiday Homecoming.”
Rabbi Ora Simon Schnitzer, who currently lives and works in the north suburbs of Chicago, is coming back to the area in order to lead the community in the High Holiday services. It will be a homecoming visit for Rabbi Ora, as she spent the first part of her childhood in Waterloo, attending services at SOJ.
Rabbi Ora is the daughter of Rabbi Mordecai Simon, who served as the rabbi at SOJ from 1956 to 1963. While reflecting on what the area means to her, Ora said, “I’m very excited to be going back to my dad’s roots. It is a very special place for me; it has nothing but good memories.”
Members of the synagogue are excited to welcome her once again to her old home. As they open their doors to familiar faces, they also invite newcomers to join in their celebration.
Sarah Stokes, vice president of the SOJ board, said, “We are happy to provide Jewish students and faculty at UNI a place to come and find a meaningful High Holiday experience.”
“We are also happy to provide people of all faiths and religious backgrounds an opportunity to join us as we chant from the ancient Torah scrolls, listen to the blast of the shofar, enjoy a nosh of apples and honey and cast our sins away in a symbolic ceremony called Tashlich,” Stokes said.
The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, are two of the most important traditions in Judaism. Naomi McCormick, liaison for SOJ, described them as a time for Jews to reflect upon the past year and contemplate ways to improve from shortcomings.
“Judaism is a religion that is deeply concerned with morality, our responsibility to treat others respectfully,” said McCormick. “The High Holidays oblige us to consider the extent to which we failed to behave morally or responsibly.”
McCormick added, “It is our duty to make amends with other human beings. Prayer alone is insufficient. In these troubled times with reality television ethics abounding, Judaism, and the other great religions, provide guidance to treat others as worthy human beings.”
SOJ invites all who are curious to attend the services in September. They are particularly focused on drawing younger people to attend and connect with the local Jewish community.
Stokes said, “We highly encourage students to take this opportunity to join us for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services and learn about the holiest days in the Jewish tradition.”
Tickets for students are discounted to $15 for the three days of services, which includes a vegetarian meal and two snacks. Regular adult tickets can be purchased for $30.
Stokes said the synagogue is a “small, but mighty” community looking to grow, both in their membership and in their on-campus presence at UNI.
“Of course, our doors are always open,” Stokes said, “And we encourage interested students and faculty to drop by at any of our events or services or call the office for more information.”
SOJ has been working to establish an on-campus community, but so far there are no registered Jewish organizations at UNI.
“Ideally, we would like to bring our services, and perhaps other events, to campus at least on a once per year or once per semester basis,” said Stokes.
McCormick said there are a number of activities and events the synagogue hosts, outside of religious services. SOJ holds a book club once a month that anyone is welcome to join. They are also partnering with the Cedar Valley Interfaith Council (CVIC) later this year for an event called “Know Your Neighbor.” That event will focus on familiarizing local families of different faiths with one another, according to McCormick.
The synagogue is striving to incorporate individuals and families from all backgrounds into their community and encourages non-religious people to feel welcome, as well.
“We would be thrilled if college students who are knowledgeable about Judaism considered training to be lay leaders,” said McCormick. “We welcome everyone!”
Services for Rosh Hashanah begin Sept. 10 at 9:30 a.m., and services for Yom Kippur will begin on Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. All High Holiday services will be held at SOJ synagogue, with the exception of the Tashlich, which will be located at Liberty Park in Waterloo. For more information about the upcoming dates, visit the SOJ Facebook page, website, or Instagram.