The sweetness of honey; the gates, open
On Yizkor

A transformative Yom Kippur

28285590_a11731b5f8_zI wonder how many of y'all reading this blog now were reading ten years ago when I attended my first Yom Kippur retreat at Elat Chayyim? I had felt for years as though Yom Kippur were eluding me. I could tell that it was supposed to be transformational, but I'd never been able to entirely find my way in. I always came out of it feeling that I wanted more.

And then I went to the old Elat Chayyim for a Yom Kippur retreat, and the experience opened me up. It was everything I had barely dared to dream the holiday could be. From then on, I went on retreat every year for Yom Kippur, until midway through rabbinic school when I began serving others during the Days of Awe instead of going someplace to be filled-up myself.

I took a few minutes this morning to reread my post about that first Jewish Renewal Yom Kippur. I am humbled and moved to discover how many of those teachings have become integral to my sense of what Yom Kippur is and can be. Here are some glimpses:

I learned a new interpretation of the practice of beating the breast during the recitation of missteps: rather than castigating ourselves, we're knocking gently on the heart, asking it to open...

At one point, we went outside to talk individually with God for ten minutes. My insight during that walk was that talking to God from Elat Chayyim is like making a local call! I said as much to the group when we reconvened, to much laughter. The fact of laughter on Yom Kippur surprised and warmed me...

Teshuvah is like climbing a ladder, but the rungs are spaced farther apart than we can reach. We can't reach one rung while remaining safely on the previous one. There's nothing to do but leap...

One of the refrains of the holiday is "On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed." From this we can intuit that while the heart may be solid on Rosh Hashanah (so words can be inscribed on it), it must be soft like wax in order to be sealed on Yom Kippur. So it is incumbent on us to soften our hearts...

Read the whole thing: Yom Kippur at Elat Chayyim (2004.) And thank you, again, dear Reb Elliot and Reb Jeff*, for the immeasurable gifts of that retreat: gifts which are still unfolding for me in my rabbinate, my service, and my experience of the holiday even now.





*In this case I mean Rabbi Jeff Roth, of the Awakened Heart Project -- not the other Reb Jeff, though I thank Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser for everything he taught me about high holiday prayer and leadership too.

Also: if you have no plans for Yom Kippur and are in (or can get to) New England, there will be an amazing retreat at Isabella Freedman; read all about it. Or, if paying for a retreat is beyond you, you're welcome at my shul, where we do not have tickets; all are welcome.