Jack and Judy Minsley estimate there are only 200 practicing Jewish families in McHenry County, which they say is all the more reason to raise awareness during the holiest time of the Jewish calendar.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur fall especially early this year, with the former starting Wednesday evening and the latter beginning at sundown Sept. 13.
Judy Minsley, the chairwoman of Tikkun Olam – one of McHenry County’s two Jewish congregations – said the high holy days are time for atonement and introspection, but also an opportunity to inform non-Jewish people about the holidays.
“[Judaism] is a huge minority in McHenry County,” Judy Minsley said. “I think certainly people are accepting of it, but they’re not necessarily aware. It’s a curiosity, but an unawareness.”
It’s not uncommon for practicing Jews to take Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur off from work or school, often resulting in questions from bosses and teachers who aren’t as familiar with the holiday, Jack Minsley said.
“This is one of the very few times during the year where an older child may not be in school for that day or not be at sports practice, and there is a strong reason for that,” said Jack Minsley, who is a lay leader at Tikkun Olam. “And because of the minority status, a lot of the school boards, etc., don’t recognize these things.”
Rosh Hashanah, which means “Head of the Year,” marks the beginning of the Jewish new year. It’s an opportunity for individuals to assess and correct the mistakes they have made in their life.
“If I have wronged an individual, it is my responsibility to make it right with them one on one, then one on one to make it right with God,” Jack Minsley said.
Tikkun Olam will celebrate Rosh Hashanah from sundown Wednesday to sundown Thursday. The Thursday service will last several hours, Jack Minsley said.
Yom Kippur is a more solemn holiday, and it is meant to atone for sins and for spiritual rebuilding.
“The idea is this is the day of atonement,” Jack Minsley said. “Begging for forgiveness … You’re taking stock. What did I do? What am I proud about? What could I do better? What things did I do wrong that I’m not proud of and I’d like to make amends?”
People older than 13 who are physically capable will fast from sundown to sundown during Yom Kippur, with family meals at the beginning and end of the fast. Foods such as apples dipped in honey and honey bread are common to welcome in a sweet new year, Judy Minsley said.
The Minsleys moved to McHenry County 25 years ago, and at the time the McHenry County Jewish Congregation was the only place for Jews to worship in the area. In 1996, Tikkun Olam was started, and the Minsleys were one of the first families to join.
Tikkun Olam is a reform Jewish congregation with between 20 to 30 member families, which is something Judy Minsley said sets the congregation apart.
“It’s more of a community or family,” she said. “You know everybody. There’s a closeness that you don’t get in a big congregation.”
Tikkun Olam will hold Rosh Hashanah services at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and at 10 a.m. Thursday. Yom Kippur services will be at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 13 and at 10 a.m. Sept. 14. All services are at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church at 503 W. Jackson St. in Woodstock.
The McHenry County Jewish Congregation will hold services at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and 9 a.m. Thursday and Friday. Yom Kippur services will be at 6:30 p.m Sept. 13 and at 9 a.m. Sept. 14. Services will be at 8617 Ridgefield Road in Crystal Lake.