Today is December 15, 2017 -

High Holy Day Services Crash Course

By Hazzan Michael Krausman

With the High Holy Days just around the corner, now is a great time to start to prepare. Here is a quick reference guide for making High Holy Day services more personally meaningful. By following some of these suggestions, services can become more of an active – rather than passive – process.

A) Reading Readiness

  • Look over the Machzor (High Holy Days prayer book). Borrow one from the Synagogue if you wish.
  • Compare different versions of the Machzor; find alternate readings or translations.
  • Visit the library or a Jewish book store and select a book about the prayers or about the Holidays.
  • Borrow a copy of our High Holy Days Guide.

B) Personal Experience

  • The function of many of our prayers is to place us back into history e.g. to “feel” what it was like to get the Torah at Mount Sinai. Write down and be prepared to think of a time when you felt the presence of God or felt profoundly Jewish.

C) Z’chut Avot

  • Many times during services we appeal for forgiveness due to the merit of our ancestors; find out about your own ancestors/family and share the results with other family members.
  • Ask kids to interview grandparents and discuss the results during festival meals or before services.
  • Find out about and discuss past holiday experiences, such as sitting next to a grandparent in services.

D) Personal Prayers/Meditations

  • Personal prayers/meditations are provided for at various places in the services (e.g. at the end of the Amidah or silent prayer).
  • Bring a list of things you want to thank God for, things you want to ask for or things you have trouble understanding.
  • Write poems that you can include in the service similar to the Piyutim, or liturgical poems, that are already part of the service.
  • List things about yourself you are proud of or would like to improve in the coming year.
  • Think about goals for the future.
  • Before Yom Kippur, it is customary to ask for Michilah (forgiveness) from anyone you may have harmed, either intentionally or inadvertently. Think about who these may be – family members are always a good place to start. This is an opportunity to enter the New Year with a clear conscience and rekindled relationships.

E) Buy Your Own Machzor

  • Paper clip in your own book: prayers, readings, meditations or personal lists, transliterations, names of family members to be remembered at Yizkor or during the Martyrology, which is said during Yom Kippur.

F) CD’s or MP3’s of Holiday Music

  • Playing music in the home as you prepare for a holiday always helps set the appropriate tone and builds excitement for the upcoming occasion. There are several online sources for these including iTunes.

Hebrew, as you may know, is based on a system of three- or four letter roots around which all of the various forms and conjugations of words are formed. By looking at a few of these, you will be able to receive an idea of some of the concepts the author of the particular prayer is seeking to convey. These roots can be expressed in English transliteration as a series of letters separated by dashes. So here we go:

1. B-R-Ch. This conveys the concept of Praise or Blessing. Thus the word BRaCha, means blessing, as in “Blessed are you our God”. Any time this root is employed we are evoking the presence of the Creator in what we seek or in that for which we are grateful. So BiRCHat Kohanim, is the Priestly blessing recited on the holidays, festivals and other significant Selichot occasions. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for “knee” is BeReCh; we often bend our knee when acknowledging God’s presence.

2. K-D-Sh. This conveys the concept of Holiness. God is the Holiest of all entities because there is only one God in the universe. So we have KidDuSh, the sanctification of Shabbat or a Festival usually made over wine. KiDuSha, the expression of God’s holiness, is found during the public recitation of the Amidah. KaDiSh is the prayer said by mourners, and KiDuShin is the Hebrew word for wedding.

3. M-L-Ch (K). This conveys the concept of monarchy. God is described as MeLeCh Ha Olam, the ruler of the universe. MaLChuyot is a section of the Rosh Hashanah service that cites texts demonstrating and focusing on the monarchy of God. Also, we often sing the popular prayer, Avinu MaLKeinu (Our Parent, Our Monarch), pointing to the continuum between justice and mercy that defines our relationship with God.

4. Z-Ch(K)-R. This conveys the concept of Remembering. So we have ZiChRonot, a section of the Rosh Hashanah service that cites texts demonstrating and focusing on the past, and the memory of the relationship between God and our ancestors. Many gather on Yom Kippur and other festivals for the YiZKoR memorial service. We also have the Israeli version of Memorial Day – Yom Ha ZiKaRon.

5. Tz-D-K. This conveys the concept of Justice, or doing that which is right. Thus the Bible implores us, “TzeDeK, TzeDeK Tirdof; Justice, Justice shall you pursue.” We come to the realization before God during the High Holy Days that we are not TzDiKim, completely righteous people like our great sages, but that we have indeed committed transgressions. During Yom Kippur it’s a good time to support the Synagogue by giving TzeDaKah, i.e. doing that which is right
and just.

Please feel free to contact me for help with any of these suggestions or to explore other possibilities. By doing a small amount of pre-planning, the services that we experience together this year can be the most meaningful ever.

Shanna Tovah U’Mitukah
Best wishes for a year of Blessing, Peace and Sweetness!

Hazzan Michael Krausman, Laurel, Zev and Zach