Shanah Tovah! | Urban Living
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Shanah Tovah!

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Since Utahns are mostly of Christian faith, you probably aren't aware that Rosh Hashanah happened earlier this month. If you heard your neighbor blowing their shofar (a hollowed ram's horn), it was in celebration of the Jewish New Year. There are a number of great traditions associated with the holiday that anyone might want to embrace, regardless of religion, including tossing bits of bread into a natural body of water (river, pond, etc.) to symbolically cast away sins you've committed in the past year, and eating treats like the customary apples dipped in honey to ensure that your new year will be sweet.

The first Jew to come to Utah was Murray Abrams. He was Brigham Young's accountant and helped set up the monetary system within the LDS Church. His practices worked so well that Young gave Murray a large piece of land for a farm and named a suburb of the city after him. Just kidding—I totally made that up. I like to tell that tale to newcomers who ask how Murray got its name. The city is actually named after the Civil War General Eli Murray, who was territorial governor of Utah from 1880-1886. The reality is that Jewish trappers were in Utah as early as 1826. In 1854, a Jew traveled with Colonel Fremont on his famous mapmaking expedition followed in the same year by Julius and Fannie Brooks. They were the Jewish family to establish roots in Zion. In 1866, Young bequeathed the Hebrew Benevolent Society their first cemetery, and in 1904, the first synagogue, Montefiore, was built. That building is now home to a Russian Orthodox church. The oldest synagogue in Utah that's still in the same location is Odgen's Brith Sholem.

In 1872, the Hebrew Women's Benevolent Society of Salt Lake City was formed to relieve the destitute by serving Jewish transients downtown. The transcontinental railroad brought many folks west looking to make their fortunes, and many didn't make it past Utah. In 1936, the now Jewish Relief Society hired their first paid worker to help organize efforts in working with down-and-out Jews and non-Jews alike as the Great Depression wound down. Bump up several decades and you have The Jewish Family Service, "serving people of all denominations since 1872." I recently worked with them donating to their humble foodbank, and found they also offer counseling, care management for seniors, émigré services and emergency assistance.

So, here's wishing you a sweet new year, no matter when you celebrate. If you're in need, know the JFS might be able to help; call 801-746-4334. To donate, visit JFSUtah.org.

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