Setting the Stage for High Holidays

Dear Friends,

The following message is comprised of reflections on our High Holiday services over the past two years. Guess what? With all that has changed and will change in our community, they still hold true. I hope reading them again sets the stage for a Shana Tovah for all of you.

It is told of Rabbi Israel Salanter that late one night, he was passing through a main street where a cobbler of his acquaintance lived. He noticed through the window that the candle that gave the shoemaker light was flickering and would soon go out. Rabbi Israel entered the cobbler’s hut and said to him, “My friend, why do you sit up so late? You worked all day long; the candle’s light is almost out; it is in its last flickering. Isn’t it better for you to go to bed and rest?” “Well rabbi,” responded the shoemaker, “as long as there is light in this candle, I can still do some mending.” Rabbi Israel then, so the story goes, kept on repeating: “As long as the light of life is burning, one still has time to mend one’s ways.”

This is one of the readings that we share at our Selichot service, which takes place every year on the Saturday evening before Rosh Hashanah. Selichot is comprised of traditional penitential prayers, and our particular service brings in poetry and contemporary reflections as well. The lights in the Sanctuary are dimmed, the atmosphere is reverent and the music is spectacular. It’s the perfect way to orient our inner compass towards Rosh Hashanah, and the continued introspection and renewal the High Holidays usher in.

On Saturday September first, as part of Selichot, we will be holding a dedication to our beautiful new Sanctuary, fresh from the summer’s renovations. Join us at 7:00pm for informal study and discussion, then at 8:00pm for dessert, Havdallah, dedication and service.

As a famous proverb is fond of reminding us, it’s never too late. It’s never too late to change, to start something new, to do good in the world, or in the words of George Elliot: “to become what we might have been.” By the same token, it’s never too early either. One of our favorite High Holiday pastimes is to comment, assess, or some years lament the “early” or “late” placement of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur on the secular calendar. The irony of course, is that the Hebrew date is the same each year: the first day of the new month of Tishrei. In the best sense, no matter when these days find us, they are right on time.

As we prepare, here are a few ways to bring focus to these final days of Elul:

– When you enter the sanctuary on Rosh Hashanah, bring your receptivity to change along with your attachment to tradition. Cantor Chabon and I understand the importance of both, and are grateful every day for this congregation’s enthusiasm when it comes to stretching our spirits and trying different things. At the same time, we understand that no time of year calls us into our relationship with sensory and liturgical memories of the past quite like this time does. As always, it will be our mission to honor the sacred blend of what has been and what is yet to be.

– Give some thought to your High Holiday contribution before Yom Kippur. At our Yom Kippur morning service, Congregation B’nai Tikvah’s president Dan Lapporte will speak to us about the highlights of the past year, and all we have to be proud of. As we well know, our ongoing work is strengthened by the incredible dedication of our lay leadership and the support of our congregants. I ask you to consider your Yom Kippur gift before arriving at services. Each contribution will ensure that our synagogue continues to nurture us and the generations that follow us. That’s why each one is so meaningful.

– Remember when you were a brand new congregant. One of the sections of the Shofar Service on Rosh Hashanah is called Zichronot, or remembrances. For some, that first High Holiday season at B’nai Tikvah is a distant memory. Others may be joining us for the first time this year. Be ready with a “Shana Tovah” and a welcoming smile when you see faces in the congregation you don’t recognize. You can’t imagine how significant such a seemingly small gesture is to the person who receives it. Or how it will be remembered for years to come.

For all of us – may 5779 be a year of sweetness, of good health, of dreams realized, and of peace.

L’Shana Tovah,

Rabbi Gutterman