Today is January 21, 2019 -
By Rabbi Steven Abraham
This year at Beth El we are taking a slightly different approach to the High Holy Days. Not unlike Passover, we pushed ourselves to think about the theme of the Holy Days. At its core, Passover is about freedom. It is the story of our ancestors’ journey from slavery to freedom, so we decided to create an experience that was thematically similar yet meaningful in 2016. Whether it was the tents inside the social hall, the camels and donkeys outside or that Hazzan and I dressed up as Moses and Aaron, the goal was to teach ourselves and our children about the story of the Exodus from Egypt.
Recently in an article I was reading by Steven Bayme Ph.D. entitled “Ensuring Jewish Continuity,” the author posits the question “are we doing all we can to make Jewish life attractive enough so that few will wish to abandon it while others will wish to join?” – Bayme, 337. Are we doing enough? My answer is “not yet,” but we at Beth El are working really hard towards that goal.
With that in mind we sat down to think about the Holy Day of Rosh Hashanah and why we celebrate it. What is the essence of this day that we spend in prayer, only to be awoken by the beautiful sound of the shofar.
At its core Rosh Hashanah is a birthday party, the Birthday of the World, and this year we will celebrate 5777. Hopefully, many of you (and your children) have already received your Rosh Hashanah Birthday invitations; you cannot have a party without invitations! There will be presents, there will be balloons and most importantly, there will be cake. We will start at 10:00 am sharp and be finished by 12:30 pm. Yes, the service will be shorter – yet I contend it will be no less meaningful.
Our job, the Hazzan and I, is to create a safe space for you to be able to think about the year that has been and the year that will be. Some find respite from the outside world in an art museum, others in a lecture; yet the beauty of a synagogue is that it provides a break from the outside world in a place where we know everyone is mentally in the same place.
Please know that this year we will do all of the major pieces that you are accustomed to and explain what they mean in 2016. To read a passage that asks “who will live and who will die,” perhaps not by fire and water, but by cancer and disease. How do we process that, can we process that, how do we live with that amount of uncertainty in our lives? In a world where we are running from morning until night, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur provide us an opportunity to take a much-needed break for ourselves and for our families. To look back on the year that was, to absorb the blessings and the curses, the ups and the downs and think about the year that we are about to begin. It is a time to sit with our families and think about the upcoming year, what we want to see happen and how can we, with God’s help, make our hopes turn into reality.
This year the goal will be same as it is every other year, which is to provide a meaningful experience that betters your soul. Yet the means that we use to reach this goal will be slightly different. We hope you will give it a try.