As Jews along the Grand Strand prepare for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, they are reflecting on the challenges of the past year and looking forward to better times to come."Rosh Hashana is a serious time of judgment, prayer and repentance - a time of soul searching and fixing what was not proper last year," said Rabbi Doron Aizenman of Chabad of Myrtle Beach. It is also a time to teach children and to spend time as a community, as members of Chabad did Wednesday at a festival to celebrate the holiday.The holiday begins at sundown today and ends at sundown Sunday.He said Jews believe that during the High Holy days, the spiritual and material budget for the year is determined, so people will be praying and asking for a better year."This year, a lot of our idols were shattered, things that we had our trust in fell apart. The financial markets, the banks, property values and things that we thought would never go away just lost their value and their sense of security," Aizenman said.The challenges made people stronger, more responsible for their expenses and brought people closer to God, he said."Everybody was affected, everybody was worried." Aizenman said. "A lot of people are picking up the pieces, but it is with a sense of maturity rather than the panic of a year ago and with a sense that yes, we thought that that will never happen, now we are reconstructing our life, our business, too, and that will make us survive."Residents had a tough year, said Rabbi Avi Perets of Temple Emanu-El in Myrtle Beach. "We say let the old year with its curses be over and the new year with its blessings begin," he said.Many members of the congregation who are retired lost a large part of their savings in the stock market this year and struggled. The challenges also brought out the best in the community as residents worked together on charitable projects and helped those less fortunate, Perets said.People at the temple supported people who lost their jobs, collected clothes and volunteered regularly at the Community Kitchen. Hugo Schiller of Myrtle Beach said it was gratifying to see how the temple community came together to help a man who was struggling financially and was seriously ill."I think, you know, when everything is going great, people go about their merry way, but you really find out about people when things are not going that well, and I was really pleased by the response," he said.Schiller is grateful to have weathered the financial difficulties of the past year but is even more thankful that he will be able to attend services this year.Last year, Schiller, 78, could not attend services because he was recovering from a quintuple bypass surgery."On a personal level, I'm looking forward to continued good health, which becomes sort of paramount when you hit my age," he said. "But hopefully, the country in general and this community will continue to improve the financial situation that we found ourselves in, and God willing, there will be peace, particularly in the Middle East," he said.Perets and Aizenman said that Jews will also be thinking about and praying for a more peaceful year in Israel.Perets said that the signs of economic improvement, such as gains in the stock market and positive trends in the housing market, have brought some optimism that the country is moving in the right direction. He is focusing his message to the congregation not on the troubles of the past year, but on making personal improvements.Contact ADVA SALDINGER at 626-0317.