ST. PETERSBURG — Joggers and dog-walkers paid little attention to a Jewish prayer group in Vinoy Park this morning, perhaps unaware the ritual was the most rare of Judaic traditions.
A Birkat Hachama — or blessing of the sun — is performed every 28 years when the sun returns to the position it was in when the world was created, according to Judaism. This morning at sunrise, worshippers around the world praised God for providing such predictable light and energy to the Earth.
At chilly Vinoy Park, about 30 men, women and children chanted, sang and danced for the blessing.
"Even though we're all ages, from the very young to the slightly elderly, for most of us, it's our first time celebrating this tradition," said Rabbi Alter Korf of St. Petersburg's Chabad Jewish Center. "That is very special."
Korf himself didn't remember whether he celebrated the last blessing of the sun or not, since he was 4 the last time it occurred. This time, he brought his wife, Chaya, and their five children, ages 1 through 7, in hopes the older kids might remember.
Robby Chicco, 54, also brought his 3-year-old son, Asher, who wandered around the park near the group and occasionally asked his father what was happening.
"We're going to do this every 28 years," Chicco said. "He'll be 31 then, and hopefully I'll still be around. It's kind of neat thing to do when you have a child."
The ritual was also performed in Dunedin at the east end of the Dunedin Causeway, on the south side of the drawbridge. Rabbi Shalom Adler led about 40 or 50 people in the blessing.
The significance of 28 years comes from the calculation that the solar cycle is actually 365 days, plus six hours. Therefore, the sun can only return the original spot of its creation every 10,227 days.
Although this morning was unusually cool and windy for this time of year, the sky was clear enough to see a stunning Florida sunrise.
"We're lucky to be living in St. Pete," Korf said, "where we're surrounded by water and beauty."