Tonight Jews will enter into the holiest time of the year.
At sunset, Rosh Hashanah begins with the blowing of the shofar. The observance acknowledges when the world began, and it also marks the beginning of 10 days of reflection and repentance that culminate on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year.
The period is known as the High Holy Days or Days of Awe.
Student Rabbi Nicole Luna, spiritual leader at Temple Beth Israel, said the period is referred to as Days of Awe because "we are in awe of God and in awe of the world God created."
It is a time when Jews meditate on their reverence and awe-fearing respect for God, she said.
An examining of one's life and relationship with others also takes place.
"It's reflecting on the past year, the deeds we have done, how we have acted and who've we hurt," she said.
Luna said the worship services held during the High Holy Days intensify the process that actually begins in the previous month known as Elul.
Bill Wallen, executive director of the Greater Altoona Jewish Federation, said the shofar is blown at every Sabbath service in Elul to symbolically awaken the congregation to get out of their normal routine and to get in the spirit of the upcoming season.
Wallen said, "It is a time of contemplation, to look at how you have done and what you want to do better."
He said introspection is a process and takes time and may make one aware of something he or she never thought about before.
"If you are really going to examine yourself, it's something that you can't do at a service," he said.
"The Hebrew word 'teshuvah' means to turn and return to the right path," Wallen said. He said it is similar to the Christian concept of repentance.
"It is not magically one moment you change," he said. "It is a process of change."
The turning process may involve making things right with another person.
"First, you have to admit to yourself that you have done something wrong and then feel badly enough that you want to change. There is a determination to make it right which involves an apology for the behavior and a desire to be better than you were before," Wallen said.
He said if a person wants to change a bad habit, such as smoking, it may take awhile for the change to occur.
"It's a struggle to change," Wallen said. The self-examination is hard and to make the change is even harder, he said.
Wallen said period of reflection also can be a time to recognize accomplishments and improvements in one's behavior during the previous year.
"You celebrate the steps you've made," he said. "Maybe the goal was to keep kosher," he said, and "maybe during the last year you watched what you ate and why you ate it."
"You should feel good about that," he said.
Luna said when the Jews gather for services, the importance of the soul searching is heightened. She said Jews who may not attend Sabbath services will attend Yom Kippur, a day spent fasting and in prayer in the synagogue, acknowledging that God plays a role in their lives.
An awareness of anyone they have offended is part of the introspection.
"We have an obligation to go to people and ask for forgiveness," Luna said. "It is a powerful experience to ask someone for forgiveness or to say, 'I forgive you.'"
"If we have hurt someone's feelings or upset them, we ask for forgiveness," said Hazzan Michael Horwitz, spiritual leader at Agudath Achim Synagogue.
He said there is a tradition that if one goes to person and the person is unwilling to forgive, the person seeking forgiveness must do it three times.
"If they haven't accepted your apology, you have done your part, the rest is up to God," he said.
Horwitz said sins and shortcomings are dealt with through the year, but the 10 Days of Awe are a period of very serious reflection and renewal.
During a Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur service, the spiritual leader lies prostrate and members of the congregation may bow during a prayer called Aleinu to acknowledge humility and reverence for God.
As the 10 days end in the evening of Yom Kippur and the all-day fast is about to be broken, a prayer seeking forgiveness is said again, Horwitz said.
The shofar is sounded and "just like that, we go back to our daily routine," he said. "A new cycle of the year begins."
The prayer is a reminder that introspection continues throughout the year.
Wallen said the High Holy Days also are a time of joy and a sense of being cleaner.
"You end up with a good feeling," he said.