Wishing for a different communal discourse
This is real, and I want to be prepared: Elul, Selichot, and Rosh Hashanah

If you're attending shul during the Days of Awe...

This is a draft of something I'm hoping to make available at my synagogue during High Holiday services. It's loosely based on something I remember reading when I was an undergrad. I welcome responses, comments, and suggestions. Have you ever tried something like this? What did your version say?

Welcome to High Holiday services at CBI!

Over the course of the Days of Awe, we gather frequently to pray. At most services, we'll experience some of the elements of daily and weekly prayer: psalms of praise and thanks, the Shema and its blessings, the chance to stand before God -- whatever you understand that word to mean, God far above or God deep within -- during the standing prayer called the Amidah. At our morning services we'll read from Torah, as we do every Shabbat.

We'll also experience some things during these services which aren't part of daily and weekly prayer at CBI: a reading from the prophets (called the Haftarah -- this is done weekly at many synagogues, though not at ours), a sermon from the rabbi (which only happens here during the Days of Awe; the rest of the year, if I offer any remarks, they take the short and informal form of a d'var Torah), and a variety of special prayers written for use during the Days of Awe.

It is my deep hope that these services will resonate with you. I hope that the prayers, in their music and in their language, will open something in your heart and in your spirit, and will help you feel connected with God, with our community, and with our tradition at this holy time of year.

But I know that prayer services don't speak to everyone. And these are some of the longest, and most intellectually challenging, services of our year. If you find that our services aren't speaking to you, here are some options. You might:

  • leaf through the machzor (high holiday prayerbook) in search of pages which resonate with you or interest you -- Torah readings, poems, meditations;

  • move to the back of our sanctuary and pull a book off of the shelves in our library, which surrounds the big sanctuary -- all of our books relate to Judaism in some way, and who knows, you might pull exactly the book you didn't know you needed to read;

  • sit in silent meditation and let the service wash over you, taking care to be attentive to your breath and to what arises in you as you listen to the singing and the prayers;

  • slip outside and experience connection with God through walking in the grass and near the wetlands beside our synagogue, or through sitting in our gazebo; you might try the practice attributed to the Hasidic master Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav, who had the custom of walking in the fields or in the woods and speaking quietly with God as he went;

  • find your way to the back of our sanctuary, claim some space for yourself, and do some gentle yoga while you listen to the davening;

  • visit our classroom, where there is childcare during many of our services, and connect with divinity through spending quality time with the next generation of our community.

This is a unique season in our year, and I want you to experience it wholly. Your shlichei tzibbur (leaders-of-prayer) will do our best to keep our services meaningful and engaging, but if what we're doing isn't speaking to you, we hope you'll forgive us -- and will do whatever you need to do in order to connect with the Days of Awe, with our traditions, and with God.

(Though please don't text or engage with social media in our sanctuary while others are in prayer.)

Wishing you every blessing as we move through this holy season!

Reb Rachel