Many Jews who do not consider themselves observant nevertheless make time to check in on one or more of the High Holy Days (I prefer to identify as the Days of Awe) and or take time to attend a Passover Seder. My sense is that occasional attendees do not look to rituals for connecting Jewishly as much as other areas of identity, i.e. feeling more culturally Jewish or identifying Jewishly in their heart. Statistically fewer than half the Jewish population belongs to synagogues or other Jewish institutions.
For those of you that do take time to attend one or more services during the upcoming Days of Awe, I suggest this year is very different in a number of ways and urge you to plan to be at CBI for even more time than you might have anticipated.
Given conditions in our world at present, the agenda for these days transcends ritual observance. These are times of crisis: national leadership is in a state of seeming paralysis at a point when we need leaders of vision, integrity, caring, compassion and thoughtful decisiveness, none of which characteristics are presently found in the White House and other areas of governance.
The Days of Awe address in detail virtually all the concerns we face these days. It is no coincidence that we are bearers of a story worth recounting at this time: in the story, we are told that the world faces unspeakable doom, with one version positing that flooding is coming to overtake California (remember as of now, it is a “story”…though as of this writing, one that Texas is facing from Hurricane Harvey). So, as people head to their spiritual places for comfort and guidance, in other traditions, the clergy inform their parishioners that they have a week to prepare to meet their Maker and to repent their sins. Jews coming to synagogue for comfort and guidance hear their rabbi say, “Folks, we have one week to learn how to live under water”.
The point of the story is that Judaism, a program that has survived (along with us Jews) when great nations and empires over thousands of years have not, approaches life differently than either other spiritual traditions or nations lacking a blueprint for long term continuity in this realm. While other traditions seek long term grace, i.e. salvation in the next life, if this one is without hope, Judaism’s entire focus is on this world and to make every effort possible (and even seemingly impossible) to enable life to continue in this realm despite all odds.
This focus on making life work in this world, no matter how bad conditions are, is the purpose of the Days of Awe. These services are not about Jewish continuity (that is Passover’s theme) but about continuity of human life on this planet. The shortcomings we address on Yom Kippur cover any and all mistakes, errors, willful misbehavior, and lamentable deeds that human beings and societies make, to the detriment of life in our world.
That alone is reason enough for you to stick with your CBI community throughout these Days of Awe and to follow the “discussion” to be raised in drashot (teachings) and commentaries that I and others are certain to raise. The rituals that may turn some off are actually connectors to addressing matters that affect your life and that of all your dear ones, and the entire world.
A second reason, in support of the first, for making time to be with us throughout these days, is that, in addition to having our precious Max Schleicher joining us once again, with his focus on Torah laning and more, we are also welcoming for the first time my partner of many years when I was at Kol Shofar with his lovely and engaging voice and focus in leadership of a number of the services: Todd Silverstein (whose influence on me some of you will recall when I chant “his” HaYom at the end of Musaf). The voice and leadership of this newly retired chemistry professor from Willamette University adds a wonderful dimension to the energy in the room. In fact, my understanding is that a number of people from Kol Shofar will be joining us this year so as to continue to enjoy being with him…so the energy in the sanctuary will be enhanced and enriched beyond any way I can describe.
And, finally, this is our second year with our new Mahzor Lev Shalem, which unlocks a lot of the meaning and interpretation of what is behind and within the ritual that accompanies us during these days.
Selfishly, with so many guests anticipated this year, I want to make sure there are a goodly number of you CBI members and friends in attendance to match and enrich the enhanced energy anticipated with Todd’s participation.
In other words, a confluence of conditions, not the least of which, are the state of the world and concerns for strategizing future wellbeing during such alarming times, indicate unique importance in our having “all hands on deck”, as we turn to the Days of Awe this year. They will help us negotiate these difficult times. They will comfort, strengthen and empower each of us to find ways to move forward with optimism, hope and renewed energy, to address these alarming times and to work to generate conditions of blessing and goodness for a better future than we seem to face.
This agenda is at the heart of the Days of Awe. It just happens that this year they are far from being a time for a ritual check-in, in order to identify with and sign up for Jewish membership for another year. This year it is more akin to gathering for a “conference” through which to brainstorm a better future for ourselves, our families, our communities and our world, and I am comforted by the thought and knowledge that I will be able to share it with Max, with Todd and with all of you.
I wish you a Shana Tova u’Metuka, a good and sweet new year, 5778, as we all do our utmost to make it so.