Shouldn’t we call it the TEN DAYS OF TURNING?
It is true that we generally refer to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as the HIGH HOLY DAYS or, the HIGH HOLIDAYS. These terms are not wrong - but I think we might want to utilize a lesser known (but still important) term to more accurately illuminate this specific period of time - ASSERET YAMEI TESHUVAH - the TEN DAYS OF TURNING.
Arguably, The essence of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Is found in the core idea of teshuvah, which is incorrectly translated as “repentance.” Since teshuvah comes from the Hebrew verb meaning to turn or to change, I think this is a more accurate translation than repentance.
Here is the problem with repentance. In its essence repentance is really a Christian concept - this doesn’t make it bad or wrong but it is not really a Jewish concept. At times in Christian tradition repentance was built on the idea that we are born inherently bad and only by repenting can we be saved/purified/made good. Often it is taught that a belief in Jesus Christ is required to help us repent. In Judaism, we are born inherently good, and while we have the capacity to do evil, our free will can help us to choose to do good.
I believe the term teshuva is not only a more accurate translation but helps to understand what it is we are commanded to do during this ten day period. This is our time to turn away from the past and especially our mistakes of the past. This is our time to turn so that we can affirm what is good and right in our life. At the core of teshuva is the idea that we can turn and we can become better people. It will not be easy but it is doable. My wish for you is for a year of turning and changing so that you can affirm your essential goodness as a human being and as a Jew.
Rabbi Jim Simon
This Year, I Am Different
As we began to reopen this spring, I noticed a visceral, unusual response to everyday activities. Getting together with friends felt different. Going out to eat at restaurants felt different. Dropping off the kids at school felt different. It was a sense of catharsis and elation to be able to return to a sense of normalcy.
Since the summer surge, we find ourselves once again restricted and cautious. Anxiously awaiting the news when our children can get a COVID vaccine and get the same protection we enjoy.
When entering this sacred month of Elul, I am now considering the little freedoms we took for granted even more. Using the mussar traits of gratitude and hakarat hatov, recognizing the good, I wonder how I can look at the sweetness of Rosh Hashanah differently. How can I acknowledge that I GET to do something instead of belaboring the effort it takes.
I also think about how I am modeling for my kids. What do they notice (and surely later mimic) about my reactions to different types of news? How can I subtly teach and ask them to respond after some thought and consideration of all sides?
Finally, I am eager to see the faces of our community back at Temple Chai for the High Holy Days. Even if I only get to see your eyes, it will mean the world to be together in prayer and song.
Wishing you a shanah tovah um’tukah. May sweetness and goodness follow where ever you go in 5782.
Cantor Ross Wolman
At Kabbalat Shabbat we reflect on the week that is drawing to a close. My week has been consumed by images of Afghanistan, where I was privileged to spend Chanukkah on two separate tours, in Kandahar, Bagram, and an obscure Forward Operating Base on the border of Pakistan.
I think about singing, laughing, and telling stories with Soldiers for hour upon end, and disseminating Chanukkah cards made by our own Temple Chai Religious School students. I recall SGT Secord saying, “I didn’t realize how much I was longing to connect with my people.”
When I first received the invitation to make this journey, Jessie was in her first year at Kenyon College. Before I said yes, I called her to ask how she would feel if I was not there for her winter break. Her reply? “They need you more than I do.” The answer of every military family, who sacrifice time with their loved ones in service of the United States of America.
I’m thinking about the naïve vision of bringing the blessings of democracy and freedom to the people of Afghanistan. Chanukkah- the celebration of freedom of religious expression. What could have been a more meaningful time to make this journey? We even called in “Operation Enduring Freedom.”
I‘m thinking about sitting in a C-130 at the Kabul airport, my only care- when the heck would Sen. John Kerry and HIS entourage show up so that we could finally take off. No one so desperate that they were chasing after the plane, risking their lives to be on board.
Blood and treasure. Blood and treasure. Blood and treasure. I think that every veteran of Afghanistan is nurturing a broken heart heart at this moment, wondering, “For what?” I am grateful to my colleague, Rabbi Irv Elson, who shared these words, written by Jen Sarno of the Semper Fi Fund- “To all my OEF friends- please know that your service in Afghanistan over the past 20 years is invaluable. Your service to the freedoms of the Afghanistan people and to our own Countrymen is valuable beyond estimation. Your service is not defined by policy but is a representation of your heart and soul – protecting those that cannot protect themselves.
Please know your service was valuable.
PLEASE DO A BUDDY CHECK TODAY.
Oy. And I’m thinking about the women, the girls. What is to become of their hopes and dreams? The right to an education? To be proud of their bodies and wear what they choose? To make their own decisions about whether to marry and to fall in love with whomever they choose? I fear for their future.
Finally, I am haunted by the death of Private Jason Hasenaur, whose memorial ceremony I attended in Kandahar. One of his friends talked about how they used to play rock, paper scissors in the DFAC to see who had to get up and get the next round of soda. Another brutal reminder of the youth of these Soldiers.
There are many military traditions which are so moving. After the prayers, speakers and scriptural readings, the “Last Roll Call”. From the rear of the sanctuary, the First Sergeant calls the name of a few soldiers, and they respond, “Here, First Sergeant”. SGT Smith? “Here, First Sergeant.” LT Jones? “Here, First Sergeant.” Like that.
Then they call the name of the soldier to whom we pay tribute. “Private Hasenauer”. Silence. “Private Jason Hasenauer”. Silence. “Private Jason Daniel Hasenauer.” Silence. A 21 gun salute and taps. It was not easy to keep a stiff upper lip. It is barely manageable even as I am writing about it. After this, file by the front and render a final salute to the display which includes his boots, his helmet, his dog tags and his weapon. The weapon stands up in the boots, the dog tags hang off of that, and the helmet, (or in this case, his red beret, as he was in special forces), sits on top of the weapon.
It feels like TAPS for Afghanistan. (Taps is played by Gabriel Kovach)
How do you feel about speed bumps? I don’t like them. I struggle with patience in general, and pretty much rebel against ANYTHING that gets in my way. When I was in the Army and had to do a physical fitness test, I rounded the track with my head down and my arms pumping. If I pretended I was back on the sidewalks of NYC, moving forward with alacrity, I never had to worry about passing the test. The goal was to get where I was going as fast as possible!
This past year and a half has been one speed bump after another. We wanted to move forward in our lives, yet the pandemic kept putting obstacles in our way. We were forced to slow down, to adjust our pace, to focus on being in the present, not knowing what the future would look like.
These days of Elul are kind of like spiritual speed bumps. Let’s embrace them. As we move towards the High Holy Days, we take the time to reflect on our relationships, our personal growth, what direction we are heading and how we might adjust our course. We step back from our never-ending rushing. In 3 weeks we will gather to welcome a new year with new possibilities. Let’s take the time to welcome and explore this moment of slowing down the hectic pace of our lives and the opportunity to look within.
Rabbi Bonnie Koppell
The Biggest Obstacle to Becoming a Better _________
As we enter the Hebrew month of Elul, we are reminded that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are upon us. Most of us know that in our tradition this is the time of year to take stock of our behavior and be willing to acknowledge where we have failed.
The High Holy Days have always been a time that we are commanded to confront important questions - not just our areas of failure, but other related questions such as, what do I really stand for and what kind of a person am I? No doubt, these are very difficult questions and most of us do not want to confront these questions. Some prefer observing the New Year at Beth Guy Lombardo, hurling confetti, drinking champagne and dancing to the familiar refrain of Auld Lang Syne (a song where 50% of the people do not know the lyrics and the other 50% know the lyrics but have no idea what the song means)
True, Guy Lombardo always looked like he was having fun. But our New Year’s observances are not meant to be fun or frivolous. We have important things to do. The questions we ask show us to be serious people who care about the way we live in this world.
In the title, the ____________ works on the theory that you would like to be a better (spouse, parent, friend, etc.) but there is an obstacle standing in your way. Every year it is your hope to be that better _________________but it just does not work out. Is it because we are not smart enough? No. Maybe it is because we don’t care enough to be a better __________? No. Is it because we are not willing to try? No again.
I think the obstacle that stands in our way of becoming a better __________ is the fact that we don’t always feel that we are worthy of/capable of being a better ____________, with the irony being that Judaism teaches that we are always worthy and always capable.
I do not believe we are inherently bad people. I do not believe we were born with a moral blemish that prevents us from becoming a better __________.
I do believe that as a New Year approaches, we can overcome the obstacles that prevent us from becoming a better. Maybe in certain areas we are better than we think we are. I hope you can liberate that part inside of you, because that is the part that will help you to be a better____________.
L’shana Tovah Tikatayvu!
Rabbi Jim Simon