There is an old joke that says, “On the High Holy Days Mr. Schwartz goes to Temple to talk to God … and Mr. Klein goes to Temple to talk to Mr. Schwartz.” While we all still get a good chuckle from this slightly worn out quip, the truth is there is wisdom contained within, as well.
The fact is, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur do provide us with opportunities to connect both with our Creator, and with God’s creations (our friends, family and community). But there is another purpose to the High Holy Days as well. One that is deeply embedded within the liturgy, ritual and practice of the Holy Days—namely to help us emerge from this sacred season with the tools and desire to bring peace, love and compassion to our world.
While there are many aspects of the High Holy Days that do indeed help us gain perspective on our own lives, there is little purpose in self-reflection and growth if it does not also result in a positive change in our communities, our country and in the world we all share. There is little denying the fact that we are living in a world that is both literally and figuratively tearing itself apart. While there are many aspects of our lives to celebrate, there are still far too many examples of suffering and injustice in our midst.
The prophet Micah teaches (6:8): “God has shown you, O Mortal, what is good; and what does God require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
While his words may seem obvious and simple, the reality is that these charges are far harder to actualize than they appear. Justice, mercy and humility are Godly attributes that do not manifest naturally in human beings. We only gain these qualities through reflection and through practice.
In my experience, there is no greater means to cultivate and develop these attributes, than through prayer. And in the Jewish tradition, there is no greater opportunity to pray, than during the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
These Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe) force us to connect very deeply with the ancient traditions of our ancestors, but also to consider how this inherited wisdom can help direct our hearts, minds and hands towards building the world which God expects of us. None of us are perfect (not even close, in fact), and none of us should expect to be. But just as exercise and diet can transform a body over time, so too can prayer and reflection help transform our souls, if we make opportunities to do so.
I am honored to be the rabbi of Temple Adas Israel in Sag Harbor—Long Island’s oldest synagogue. This community (my extended family) is my constant inspiration, and being able to pray alongside our members and guests during Holy Days is something I look forward to each and every year.
As a proud member of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), we are a community that strives to welcome everyone with love and gratitude. Whether this is your first High Holy Days, or your 90th, we hope that you will join us to pray, learn, grow and, ultimately to come away inspired to do our part to bring some much needed peace to our shattered world.
On behalf of the leadership, members and friends of Temple Adas Israel, I want to wish all of you a Shanah Tovah U’Metukah B’shalom—a new year of goodness, sweetness and peace for all, and I hope to see you at the Temple as we welcome our new Jewish year of 5778!
For our full High Holy Days schedule and further information, please visit us online. Childcare will be provided on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: September 21 and 30, from 11 a.m.–1 p.m. with RSVP to Temple Office. Families with children of all ages are invited to our Family High Holy Day Services: Rosh Hashanah on September 21 at 3 p.m. (followed by Tashlich at Havens Beach at 4:15 p.m.), and Yom Kippur services on September 30 at 2 p.m.
Temple Adas Israel is located at the corner of Elizabeth Street and Atlantic Avenue in Sag Harbor. Contact Eileen Moskowitz, Temple Administrator, with any questions at 631-725-0904 or firstname.lastname@example.org.