Rosh Hashana begins at sundown; Southern California congregations prepare

At sundown today, Jews will begin the observance of Rosh Hashana, the two-day holiday marking the Jewish New Year.

Services ushering in the year 5771 on the Hebrew calendar will feature the blowing of the shofar, a ram's horn.

Rosh Hashana begins a 10-day period of penitence and contemplation leading to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Judaism's most solemn and somber day.

Jews believe that God records the fate of humankind in the Book of Life during the period of the High Holy Days.

Rabbis often use their Rosh Hashana sermons to discuss topical matters.

Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Sholom synagogue in Santa Monica said he will use his sermon Thursday to explain why building a mosque near the World Trade Center site "would be a positive and wonderful thing for this country and the world."

Construction of the mosque "would be a good thing not only for New York, not only for a little bit of movement and closure on all of our 9/11 echoes and memories, but to create a better future together," Comess-Daniels said.

As Comess-Daniels was writing about his "wonderful experiences with Islam and mosques," he said he called his friend Jihad Turk, director of religious affairs of the Islamic Center of Southern California, to invite him to speak at the service at Santa Monica High School, and join in singing for peace to conclude the service.

Turk accepted the invitation.

"I think a lot of people don't know Muslims personally," Turk said. "It is an opportunity for this larger congregation to hear from a Muslim leader in person and possibly have that experience break some stereotypes about how Muslims are perceived."

Ben Youcef, a Muslim actor, singer and prayer leader, will also join Comess-Daniels, Cantor Ken Cohn and the congregation in singing for peace, based on Bob Marley's "One Love" and the world music hit, "Salaam," by Sheva, Comess-Daniels said.

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