High Holidays for the Secular/Cultural/Spiritual but not Religious/ Jew-ish Jew

To say this year will be a different way to mark the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is a huge understatement. Even those who do not typically do much in the way of Judaism will often attend a High Holiday service. Many are feeling sadness at the loss of in-person or typical services, and that is valid. And yet there are exciting options this High Holiday season – especially for secular/cultural Jews.

Many of the people I serve in the online community Secular Synagogue identify that way. They have often felt left out of services because they don’t speak or read Hebrew, they don’t connect with the liturgy, they don’t feel welcome because of their beliefs/unbelief. Many of these Jews feel deeply Jewish, but they haven’t found a way in to Jewish life. This year they just might!

The truth about the High Holidays, like all things Jewish, is that there are so many ways to connect with and mark them. Some people are used to synagogue services, but others think of the holidays as being about Rosh Hashanah seders and break fasts. Some go for walks for the ritual of tashlich (casting away). Some engage in text study. Some go for silent meditation retreats. There is no way to “Jew” it wrong.

Clal is a believer in providing Judaism “without borders,” which means reimagining and using creative approaches to tradition. This is about making our traditions meaningful for Jews no matter who they are, what they believe, where they are at in their Jewish experience.

I am saddened when people feel there is no way for them to be Jewish meaningfully because they are culturally Jewish. For them, I say, there are ways to secularize most of our traditions. Here are a few ideas:

  • Host a Rosh Hashanah seder (perhaps over zoom or outside due to distancing requirements). Discuss quotations by Albert Einstein, the poetry of Marge Piercy, any secular text that makes you feel and wonder
  • Go for a tashlich walk and consider letting go of the year past. What space is created for newness?
  • Wrestle with the themes of the holiday period around repentance and forgiveness. Can you apologize? Forgive? Set a boundary? Repair a relationship?
  • Join High Holiday programs that are geared towards your secular/culturally Jewish orientation. There are many. Mine are at Secular Synagogue.
  • Find community. This may be Jewish community – perhaps an event hosted by “Here for”. This may be a gathering of people you haven’t seen lately. Perhaps this will be online. Perhaps you will host a Klezmer jam session or a well circle. There are many possibilities. One of the values in gathering for holidays is that it is good to mark them with others.
  • Find awe. Some secular/cultural Jews are concerned about the word “awe”. Think of anything that makes you feel connected to nature, wonder, the gift of being alive. I sometimes think of them as the Days of Awesome. What would make them so for you? For me, it is being in nature, yoga/meditation, poetry, and time to watch my kids play

Wishing you a High Holiday period that fills you with joy, awe, meaning, and goodness.

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