Velveteen Rabbi on Radio 613
Yerushalmi on memory & history

Ten moments from the Days of Awe

Ten moments I especially want to remember:

  • The first tekiah gedolah, at the end of the shofar service on the first morning of the holiday, blown by a young man in our congregation who was one of my bar mitzvah students some years ago. The note went on so long it brought the room to laughter and beyond, and me to the verge of tears.

  • The eve of the second day of Rosh Hashanah. At that point, everyone who's there is there because they really want to be, not because they feel obligated to be; the crowd was small and intimate, the lights were dimmed, and the service was beautiful. Usually on that second evening, Jeff reads a story or a Yiddish folktale in lieu of giving a sermon. This year he offered someone else's sermon -- one he described as one of his favorites of all time, God is a Woman and She is Growing Older by Rabbi Margaret Moers Wenig. It blew me away.

  • Giving my sermon in poetry on the second morning of Rosh Hashanah. I'd read the poems aloud to my empty study and to my cat, but delivering them as a sermon from the bimah was a completely different experience, and a wonderful one. It felt like I was having a conversation about the many ways I understand the Akedah story.

  • On the afternoon of the day which would become Yom Kippur, I met an old friend at Caretaker Farm. The evening's sermon was going to be about happiness, and afterwards I was planning to sing Rabbi Shefa Gold's "Ashrei," because the words mean "Happy are they who dwell in God's house; they will praise You forever." We sat in the herb garden, me wearing Drew in an Ergo carrier, and practiced the harmonies. Around us, people picked flowers and herbs and smiled.

  • The beginning of the Kol Nidre service. Singing Shir Yaakov's "Or Zarua" as the Torah scrolls were carried around the room. Then singing Kol Nidre itself -- I sang it once, my friend sang it once, and I sang it the final time. The last time through, much of the room joined me quietly. I love the melody, I love what the words mean, and I love the experience of singing it as the sun is beginning to slip behind the hills, the last thing we do before we officially begin the holiday. Knowing what a long day of song and prayer and repentance lies ahead, and feeling ready to dive in to whatever's coming.

  • During the Yizkor (memorial) service, singing and playing "Teach us to treasure each day," a.k.a. Limnot Yameinu (psalm 90:2 -- "teach us to treasure each day, that we may open our hearts to Your wisdom.") It's a beautiful melody by Rabbi Yitzchak Husbands-Hankin, which you can listen to here: Treasure Each Day [mp3]. I just learned it this past summer, in the Lifecycles class I took at Ruach ha'Aretz week, and bringing it to my community felt poignant and sweet.

  • After the afternoon break, we reconvened for our afternoon service around 5pm. It was a beautiful sunny day, and chairs had been set up outside the synagogue, on the patio where our sukkah will soon stand. We held our Avodah service and our mincha (afternoon) service in the spectacular sanctuary of the great outdoors, surrounded by mountains and willow tree. As our opening and closing song for mincha, I sang the round which ends with the last verse of the Torah reading -- v'ahavta l'reakha camocha, "And you shall love your neighbor / your Other as yourself." Then, instead of carrying the Torah around the room, we did a "reverse hakafah:" as I sang the round again, everyone walked past the Torah and touched or kissed it as they re-entered the sanctuary, and then we put the Torah back in the ark and continued praying indoors.

  • The final moments of Yom Kippur. Singing that final "Avinu Malkeinu" before the open ark. The change in the wording -- "inscribe us in the book of a good life" becomes "seal us in the book of a good life." My eyes were closed, the metaphorical gates of repentance were beginning to slide closed, and my heart finally began to crack open in those last instants of the holiday.

  • The final tekiah gedolah. Everyone in the room who had a shofar joining together, a holy cacophony of sound. The littlest kids had toy shofarot, and there were real shofarot of all shapes and sizes. And one by one, their voices dropped out until there was only one person who still had the breath to keep blowing, and his tone rang out, and rang out, and rang out, and then it was gone. And then -- surprise! -- a vuvuzela from the World Cup emerged, and its loud blast made everyone laugh with joy.

  • Ending these two weeks of intense introspection and cheshbon ha-nefesh (taking an accounting of the soul) with havdalah, the same way we began. Guitar and niggun, wine and sweet spices and fire, and then the new week had begun and we were singing "Eliahu Hanavi," the song of yearning for the advent of Elijah the prophet who -- according to tradition -- will usher in the messianic age when the brokenness of creation will be healed. And then we transitioned into singing "Shavua tov! A good week, a week of peace, may gladness reign and joy increase!" And we returned to ordinary time, with gratitude for the journey and for its completion.

What were the sweet moments in your Days of Awe which you especially want to remember?