From the middle to the end of last week, I was having conversations about Pope Francis’ speeches each and every day with my congregants. A great many of them were attentively listening to each of his major presentations – to the joint session of congress, at the United Nations, and at the 9/11 memorial. I, too, was drawn in by the pope’s message. Why are Jews, and people of all faiths and no faith so tuned in to the pope’s message? Here are four reasons:
Back in biblical times, Israelites would come to the great Temple three times a year, in the fall, and at the beginning and end of spring, corresponding to the festivals of Sukkot (now upon us), Passover, and Shavuot. The commandment was to “appear at God’s appointed place and celebrate – three times a year.” (Ex. 23:17).
I grew up in a fairly small Jewish community. In the ’80s, Austin, Texas was not the cool mecca it is today. There was one small Reform synagogue and one small Conservative synagogue. There was only one other Jewish kid in my class in grade school. I remember each year having to explain to my teacher that I would be out for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and having her say, “Russia what?”
As a rabbi who is blessed with the humbling privilege of leading her congregation, after the High Holy Days have passed, I wonder: Were the souls in attendance inspired by the services, or inhibited by them… or both? Did they discover what they sought? What prayer or message resonated with their heartfelt emotions, and which flowed over and past them like water? Did I choose the best readings? Was the service traditional enough? Innovative enough? Was it sufficiently uplifting while still grounding?
Sukkot, which begins Sunday, is called by our sages, “The season of our rejoicing.” But why should we rejoice?
Dear School Officials,
A couple of years ago during the High Holidays, I was approached by someone visiting my synagogue for the first time. I welcomed him, and he said he and his wife were looking for a synagogue. “We thought this was the perfect time to check out services.” I was glad they were there, but I believe the High Holidays—Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur—are the worst days to experience the personality and atmosphere of a synagogue.
White rabbis are talking about race. Over the last few years, sermons about race and racial issues have come to me occasionally but on the first work day after Rosh Hashanah this year, my social network signaled a shift. From coast to coast, in big and small congregations, in big and small cities, across denominations, white rabbis were talking about race.
What did you do this Rosh Hashanah? I spent my holiday in synagogue applying the scientific method, snacking on honey-flavored ice cream made with liquid nitrogen, playing with slime that I had just created, and observing color changes as chemicals were mixed. Isn’t that what everyone does on Rosh Hashanah?!
A few years ago, there was a terrific newspaper cartoon from the strip “Non Sequitur” entitled “The Philosophical Showdown.” It showed two men, each carrying a large sign, about to physically run into each other at a street corner. One man’s sign was urging everyone to, “Repent! This could be your last day!” The other man’s sign was reminding everyone to, “Rejoice! Today is the first day of the rest of your life!”