Meridian Star

August 24, 2013

The Jewish high holy days

Awakening an awareness of our mortality

By Rabbi David Goldstein / Congregation Beth Israel
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN — The Jewish community of Meridian is in preparation for the most solemn and significant period of the annual cycle of holy days. Beginning Wednesday evening, September 4, with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and continuing for the next ten days, the hearts and minds of millions of Jews around the world will be focused on the spiritual imperatives of life.

    Rosh Hashanah, and then Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement), are the Jew’s annual confrontation with mortality, a time to pinch oneself and say “Thank God I’m still alive!” This period of intense prayer and personal reflection carries with it the mandate to contemplate and evaluate our past, to resolve to do a better job with our lives in the days ahead, and to hope we will be blessed to be here next year.

    The sense of mortal confrontation in that particular period which the Jewish tradition describes as the Days of Awe affects the most sophisticated and learned Jew alongside the most simple. A great sage once said that for him the entirety of Yom Kippur is included in the “Amen” that one calls out following the “She’hechianu” prayer, a blessing thanking God for keeping us in life and sustaining us and for enabling us to reach this season once again. That blessing is recited at the most powerful and dramatic of all moments following the chanting of the emotional Kol Nidre prayer when the scrolls of the Torah are presented before the congregation. Thank you God that those I love are still here; thank you God that our community is still here; thank you God that I am still here.

    We have all heard the maxim, “in foxholes there are no atheists”.  If so, the Days of Awe powerfully remind us that all of life is in a way an extended foxhole and that each of us will have our final moment. Do not misread. Jews are not a morose people. We consider as emotionally healthy those men and women who spend their days discovering avenues of constructive cheerfulness and communal well-being.  But, we come together at this season to gratefully acknowledge that we are still here, and to acknowledge that our survival has not been entirely our own doing.  We are not here simply because of our personal commitment to the right amount of exercise, diet, rest, medical support, etc., etc. There is more, far more. That awareness is the heart of the High Holy Day ritual, the recognition of a power beyond ourselves; the recognition of our human vulnerability in the shadow of that power, and the determination to live each day well, with loving care and generosity to our fellow travelers. To live each day as if it were our last. There is no greater summons.

    The doors of Congregation Beth Israel are open to all. The Synagogue is located at 5718 14th Avenue. Worship for Rosh Hashanah will take place beginning Wednesday, September 4 at 7:45pm - and Thursday, September 5 at 10am. Yom Kippur evening worship, known as Kol Nidre, is on Friday, September 13 at 7:45pm , and  Saturday, September 14 for the entire day beginning at 10am.