CHARLOTTE -- If Donna Levin's life were a movie, many of the defining scenes and images would be of the Jewish High Holy Days, which, this year, begin Monday at sundown.
There she is as a child in the 1940s celebrating Rosh Hashanah -- the Jewish New Year -- with all her cousins in Pittsburgh, then sneaking sandwiches from her Yiddish-speaking grandmother into the synagogue on Yom Kippur, traditionally a long day of fasting and praying.
Fast forward to the late '60s: She and husband Norman and their two young sons are part of a small but close-knit Jewish community in Charlotte, sharing the holy days with friends whose sons and daughters call her "Aunt Donna."
And then there's the present: Now 72 and battling cancer, Levin prepares for the Jewish holidays yet again, reading and singing from a personal prayer book as she wonders whether, on this Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, God will write and seal her name in the Book of Life for another year.
"I have an illness that's very iffy as far as my life is concerned," says Levin. "And if you don't know what's ahead, you try to look upward."
That's especially true for her during the High Holy Days.
For Jews, these 10 "Days of Awe" are the most sacred time of the year, a period when God is closer than ever.
The days begin with Rosh Hashanah, the birthday of the world, marked during the daytime service with 100 blasts of the shofar, or ram's horn. And they end with the soul-searching of Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, when Jews seek forgiveness and healing and reflect on their mortality.
Levin, a member of Charlotte's Temple Beth El, will have the honor again this year of lighting the synagogue candle on Kol Nidre -- the evening service that ushers in Yom Kippur.
It promises to be an emotional moment: After she had a setback in August 2007, her husband and some of her friends worried she wouldn't make it to this year.
What started as breast cancer 14 years ago has spread, despite a double mastectomy, to other parts of her body.
"It hasn't all been easy the last year," says Levin, her hair still a bit wispy from chemotherapy.
"But I'm still here."
Spiritually, Levin is more alive than ever as she tunes in to the deeper meanings of the coming High Holy Days.
Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur
For Jews, a 10-day period of introspection and repentance.
It starts at sundown Monday with Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Jewish Year. This year, Jews will welcome the New Year of 5769 with family meals and worship. It ends with Yom Kippur, a day of fasting and prayer in the synagogue. On this Day of Atonement, Jews seek forgiven-ess from God and each other.
Jews believe that, on Rosh Hashanah, God writes names into a metaphoric Book of Life for the coming year. On Yom Kippur, he seals the Book of Life. God's judgment is final, but can be influenced by repentance, prayer and performing acts of kindness.
-- The Charlotte Observer