PEQUOT LAKES -- The year is 5761.
Or it will be with the celebration of one of the most holy days in the Jewish faith -- Rosh Hashanah.
Rosh Hashanah means, literally, "head of the year" or "first of the year." But the holy day is much deeper than a new year celebration.
On Rosh Hashanah the Book of Atonement opens for 10 days during which the faithful seek to address wrongs and reconciliation for sins against another person. That must be done before Yom Kippur, which is a day to atone for sins between man and God.
Without a temple in the Brainerd area, those of the Jewish faith are left with a long drive to Duluth or the Twin Cities -- or with the idea of celebrating an important religious holiday either alone or in small numbers. For Christians, the equivalent may be celebrating Christmas or Easter by oneself.
"It is hard in that way," said Gene Wright, who has spoken about his Jewish faith and traditions before groups of children. Wright understands what it is to celebrate religious holidays miles from a larger faith community. "I feel really deeply about my religion and my faith. It's extremely difficult that way."
Wright said missing the friendship of other Jews and celebrations is an internal thing. Rosh Hashanah, which calendars list as Saturday, is an important time.
"We sit in judgment of ourselves at this time and try to do better as a human being," Wright said. "It makes you stop and think how can you improve yourself."
In the faith, there is an emphasis of going to the synagogue at Rosh Hashanah. But for Wright that would mean a trip to a reform temple. Driving to the temple where he is a member means a trip to Des Moines, Iowa.
"You just can't pop down there," he said and smiled. "I think about it quite often, but what can you do?"
Wright moved to Pequot Lakes in 1978 and began teaching at the high school in 1980. He said there are still a lot of misconceptions about Judaism and people who confuse the Jewish faith with the nationality. Educating people about the faith and talking about it is something Wright is enthusiastic about.
"I really enjoy my faith and it probably means more to me than people realize."
A Marine Corps veteran, Wright said the older people get, the more religion can mean to them. He wears a Star of David on a chain around his neck.
"I love educating people about the Jewish faith," Wright said, noting children find the Jewish year date, counted from the beginning of time in the Jewish faith, fascinating.
"They get a kick out of that," Wright said. "The different holidays are foreign to them. ... Most kids are really, really respectful of the differences and very curious."
On Yom Kippur, which may be the most important holiday of the Jewish year, Jews who may not observe other customs may attend synagogue services.
On Yom Kippur, which means Day of Atonement, the judgment entered in the "book" is sealed. Yom Kippur is, essentially, a last day to demonstrate repentance and make amends with G-d -- a word that is spelled missing an "o" to demonstrate humility in the Jewish tradition. Yom Kippur is Oct. 9.
Wright often explains the different religious practices by drawing a mountain range with peaks to symbolize Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Jewish religions. He said he asks children what they all have in common.
Wright smiled at the line drawing. He said: "They all point up."
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