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       Shabbat and the Jewish Holidays


Paint What You Remember
Shabbat and the Jewish Holidays in Opatów, Poland
as told by Mayer Kirshenblatt


 Rosh Chodesh 
and the Blessing of the First Rays of the Sun

Jews say a blessing on the new moon. The moon is a heavenly body and it is customary, every month, when there is the first hint of a new moon, to go outdoors and say a blessing.

The new moon must be clear; there must not be even the tiniest little cloud obstructing the sliver of moonlight.

The synagogue was the center of Jewish life, so in my painting I show the people saying the blessing in front of the synagogue. I took artistic liberty in showing a full moon.

It is also a custom to say a blessing on the sun every twenty-eight years. Although this happened in my time, I did not witness it. I read about it in the Apt chronicles. It is reported there that the rabbis made announcements in all the synagogues, houses of study, and schools. The entire Jewish community was to assemble in front of the synagogue at the crack of dawn on the eighth day before Passover in 1925 to mekadesh zan di zin, which means "to sanctify the sun." Urish Lustig, a renowned fiddler in Apt, composed a special tune for the occasion.



Rosh Chodesh.

Kirshenblatt, Mayer (1916-2009)
Blessing the New Moon,
circa 1993
Acrylic on canvas
24 x 30 in.

On the appointed day, the town awoke to the sound of a gay march. Everyone assembled, and at five o'clock the chief rabbi, dressed in his festive clothing, with his shtraml, his fur-trimmed hat, appeared together with other rabbis and the Jewish community's executive board. The klezmurim played the Polish national anthem, Jescze Polska nie zginela, which means "Poland will not disappear as long as we live," and the Jewish national anthem, Hatikvah, which means "Hope."

The crowd formed a procession and walked to the accompaniment of happy music across Broad Street, along a back street, di alte valove, onto a meadow near the premises of the ritual slaughterer. The rabbi raised his arm to the east. The first rays appeared. then, little by little, the sun began to rise. The rabbi made a sign with his hand to start the prayers. The musicians prepared their sheets of music, Urish picked up his fiddle, and the ensemble played. I envision the rabbi standing on a table, and that is how I painted the scene.


Blessing the First Rays of the Sun.

Kirshenblatt, Mayer (1916-2009)
Blessing the First Rays of the Sun,
circa 1993
Acrylic on canvas
30 x 40 in.



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