I hope you and your family are well. I am thinking of you and sending my positive thoughts and prayers. We are missing everyone, and hope to bridge the distance through this electronic connection.
What moves people toward positive change? Lately, I have been thinking about this question, and how we find motivation for growth. As a Jewish woman, Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) are built-in markers to help us pause and reflect. At this time, we turn inward. We push ourselves to look back over the past year, ask for forgiveness and open ourselves up to the possibilities in the year to come. For many of us, there is a similarity to the approach, as we are guided by our teachings. Still, we each are moved by different things. What helps you move toward goodness and peace? My “neshamah” (the Jewish notion of the soul) is sparked when I dig a little deeper to find the symbolism and meaning behind our customs, or I enhance reflection with beautiful music, comforting food, or other meaningful words. This intentional combination pushes my heart and soul in the right direction as I strive “to do better and be better.”
For many of us, this year will be different. While we may not be able to attend in-person services (due to the pandemic), we can still find sweetness, compassion and spiritual renewal. Do not allow the pandemic or physical distance to become a barrier to celebration and blessings. Instead, reflect and connect with yourself, friends and loved ones, and G-d. As I said in the last Touch Points, we can find inspiration anywhere. I hope this Touch Points will remind you of the beautiful symbolism behind our traditions, and provide additional ways to sweeten the holiday with musical links, food and connection. Try augmenting your holiday with one or two ideas below that resonate; with a little thought and intention, this time will be sacred and special.
“L’shanah tovah u’metukah” – (Have a) good and sweet year.
Customs, Sweetness and Deeper Meaning During the High Holidays:
- Teshuvah– This is one of the central aspects of the Holidays. Teshuvah literally means to return.
Honestly look back over the past year and assess your actions. Find the courage to accept your faults and transgressions, and strive to be better in the coming year. This can be a transformative journey. Rabbi Sara Sapadin says, “Teshuvah is not about concealing our imperfections, it is about facing them.” Interestingly, there is a Teshuva “formula.” In order to change or “turn back” to your best self, follow these steps: recognize the wrong or error, take responsibility for your action/behavior, feel and express regret, apologize and ask for forgiveness (this could be to yourself, other people, or G-d), and plan on how you will improve and change the behavior in the future. Author Estelle Frankel says, “Through Teshuva we always have the power and freedom to begin anew so that our past need not determine our future.”
As I said earlier, one way I enhance my intention when reflecting is by listening to inspiring music. The prayer Avinu Malkeinu is recited on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This is an extremely powerful prayer. Listen to two very different versions of this prayer:
- Enjoy this minute long clip of six-year old Jewish boy, Bibi. He passionately sings a version of the prayer. I hope his words fill you with promise. (I have already watched it five times and find myself singing his version in my car!) Note: scroll down for video, and/or read the interview with his mother. You are sure to fall in love with his innocence and spirit. This video went viral. https://www.jta.org/2020/09/14/global/the-avinu-malkeinu-kid-isnt-amare-stoudemires-son-but-he-does-have-a-message-for-the-high-holidays-take-it-from-his-mom
- Here is a completely different version of the prayer. Even if you do not understand the words, you can feel the deep emotion. Click below to hear Barbra Streisand sing this undeniably gorgeous Avinu Malkeinu (4 minutes). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YONAP39jVE&app=desktop
- Forgiveness Rabbi Leah Berkowitz discusses the blessing of a genuine apology- both given and received. What makes a good apology? Rabbi Berkowitz states, “It is important to find the right words to tell people we have hurt, that we are sorry.” Be kind to yourself and to each other- offer amends and accept forgiveness. A sincere apology is a sign of strength. I hope we can all find insight to let go of anger and resentment, and find peace. Only then, we will stand in the light.
- Tashlich-On Rosh Hashanah it is customary that individuals go to a body of water and say the Tashlich prayer as they “cast off” sins by tossing crumbs or pebbles into flowing water. The tradition represents regret and forgiveness.
- Remember Those we Have Lost– The Yizkor liturgy on Yom Kippur gives us time to reflect and remember our loved ones that are departed. Thinking of their admired qualities and reflecting on their lives brings a sense of closeness and connection. It also elevates our own perspective and meaning for the High Holidays. In my family, following services, we often share the warm memories of a loved one that has passed away. Even though my eyes fill with tears (and I am even blurry-eyed now as I write this), my heart fills with so much love and gratitude to have had them in my life. May their memories continue to be a blessing.
- Food: Adding Sweetness and Connection- We are Jewish, so of course, there is food! At our table, there are traditional Holiday dishes, family favorites and perhaps, even something new. Whatever you enjoy, start Rosh Hashanah by eating apples and honey. Besides being delicious, it symbolically asks G-d to give us a good and a sweet New Year. In addition, I also love to dip challah in honey. During the High Holidays the shape of challah is round to symbolically represent the cycle of the year and Teshuvah- returning to ourselves. If you are looking for a sweet, traditional dessert, check out this honey cake recipe- my kids’ favorite! Recently, my son Alex even wanted a honey cake as his birthday cake! True Story. https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/majestic-and-moist-new-years-honey-cake-350153
There are many ways to share a meal. If you are able to, share a meal in-person with family. If that isn’t possible, assign different dishes and drop off food to share (while enjoying in different homes). Or, if it is your practice, consider sharing a meal virtually by calling, facetiming, video chatting or zoom. In addition, remember individuals that are isolated. Care for others at this time of year by stopping at their home for a socially distant visit, or a quick hello on the porch. Your thoughtful gesture will bring tremendous joy, strength and connection. As always, please remember to socially distance yourself and wear a mask. We want everyone to stay healthy.
- Shofar- The Shofar is a musical instrument made of a ram’s horn. Traditionally, the shofar is blown throughout the Hebrew month of Elul and during the High Holidays. Rabbi Ilana Schachter says that “Blowing the shofar can shake us from complacency, and can wake us up from a spiritual slumber. The sound of the shofar reminds us of important spiritual work we have yet to do.” I pray the sound of the shofar awakens us personally, and as a society. Let us acknowledge where we fell short, and how we will do more in the coming year to promote love, kindness and compassion. Amen!
- Prayer- Consider expanding your prayers this year. Pray for the doctors, nurses, and essential workers that provide care and services to help us all. We cannot forget or underestimate how difficult their jobs are. Pray to keep them safe, bring them comfort and send them additional strength to do their good work.
Let us all send heartfelt “Me Sheberach” prayers (healing prayers) for those that are sick with Covid or to those that have lost people from this pandemic. Covid-19 is felt all over the world, and many people need our prayers.
- Shehecheyanu– The Shehecheyanu prayer is an expression of our gratitude for being alive and allowing us to reach this time. It is often said during holidays, seasons, growth or milestones. Traditionally, at this time of year, we eat a new seasonal fruit (one, that we have not yet eaten) and say the Shehecheyanu prayer. “Blessed are You our G-d, who has kept us alive, sustained us and enabled us to reach this season.” I also say the Shehecheyanu when I feel grateful or blessed. The prayer makes me pause and appreciate the moment, even if it’s mundane. In addition, the Shehecheyanu prayer is especially poignant and meaningful during this pandemic.
To add to your wonder, listen to K. D. Lang sing Leonard Cohen’s song, Hallelujah (with the talented Manitoba Chamber Orchestra). Listen to it once with your eyes closed, and then listen the second time and write your own Shehecheyanu prayer. What are you grateful to have experienced this year? I love the song Hallejujah, and this is the most exquisite version I have ever heard. It has been described by one listener as “achingly beautiful.” Enjoy. (6 minutes long) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_NpxTWbovE&app=desktop
I am wishing you and your family a sweet New Year filled with good health, meaningful reflection and peace. As always, I am here for you. Email me at DRubin-Winkelman@ovation.org
Thinking of you and sending all my positive energy and love,