2016-09-28 / Voice at the Shore

The holidays are coming! Are you ready?


RABBI JONATHAN KREMER RABBI JONATHAN KREMER For years, the Forward (a Jewish weekly newspaper) ran an ad for a professional organizer with the headline: “The Holidays are Coming!”

It was brilliant: “The holidays” are ALWAYS coming! One holiday or another is always on its way—and from a professional organizer’s point of view, your home of course needs to be in order before hosting family or friends!

Well, the holidays are coming, and spiritually, these are the big ones. The High Holy Days. If needed, we can get our homes in order by calling a professional. But what can we do to organize ourselves, meaning our thoughts and our feelings? What do we do, knowing that we will soon be confronted not by others judging our housekeeping, but by us judging ourselves? And as our tradition teaches, what’s even more daunting is the thought that we will soon stand before the Judge of Judges!

Preparation for the High Holy Days can take many forms. At Shirat Hayam, the merged community of Congregation Beth Judah and Temple Emeth Shalom, Rabbi Gordon Geller, Hazzan Jeffrey Myers and I prepare by reviewing past years’ services, reading, seeking out new musical or textual inspirations, and thinking about what to say or sing and how to present it.

Do we teach? Preach? Engage in song? Do we seek to inspire, to educate, to challenge? The answer is “yes.” We strive to do all that.

What about those who come to participate in and benefit from the wealth of prayerful possibility on the High Holy Days? What about you? How do you prepare?

Certainly, there’s cooking and cleaning, planning for guests, kids home from school, grandchildren visiting. But there should also be personal preparation. It’s your New Year, your opportunity to delve into yourself, to consider ways to lighten your heart, to mend relationships, to cast off unhelpful habits, to expand your spiritual horizons.

According to Rabbi Geller, Shirat Hayam’s Reform rabbi, putting some forethought into the spiritual aspects of the High Holy Days can lead to a fuller experience of them. “T’shuva, repentance, is finding the courage to honestly plumb my soulful depths and thereby resolve, 1 – I have been wrong about someone or something; 2 – to admit my mistake; 3 – to seek to rectify my shortcoming,” explained Geller.

When the shofar is blown during Rosh Hashanah services, we say, “Today the world is reborn!” In Preparing Your Heart for the High Holy Days, Rabbis Kerry Olitzky and Rachel Sabath remind us that “because the world is a different place each moment I am alive, there is unlimited potential for change.”

How to mentally prepare? Hazzan Myers suggests that you can personalize some of the themes — such as remembrance, judgment, and repentance — found in our “guidebook,” i.e., the machzor, the High Holy Day prayer book. The machzor has many different kinds of prayer, yet at any point during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, you are encouraged to create your own prayers to express the feelings of your heart.

Sometimes, just closing your eyes and being still for even a few moments can help you focus on a single aspect of the High Holy Days. Perhaps it’s a melody, a phrase, a word remembered from last year, or the joyful expectation of being with family, of being in community, and sharing the experience. Perhaps it’s a feeling, an intention of awareness, a desire to change something in your life to make something new of the new year.

However you prepare yourself for the High Holy Days, may you have a fulfilling experience and a healthful and sweet new year! s

Jonathan Kremer is the Conservative rabbi at Shirat Hayam in Ventnor.

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