Thursday, September 28, 2017

Erev Rosh Hashanah 5778: Mishkan Hanefesh

Rabbi Akiva said: How greatly God must have loved us to create us in the image of God; yet even greater love did God show us in making us conscious that we are created in the divine image. 

Do not think you are obliged to repent only for transgressions involving acts, such as stealing, robbing, and sexual immorality. Just as we must repent such acts, so must we examine our evil feelings and repent our anger, our jealousy, our mocking thoughts, our excessive ambition and greed. We must repent all these. Therefore it is written: “Let the wicked forsake their ways, the unrighteous their thoughts (Isaiah 55:7).”
(Maimonides, 12th Century)

Ethical life has entered into religious life, and cannot be extracted from it. There is no responsibility unless there is One to whom one is responsible, for there is no response where there is no address….
(Martin Buber)

As a child, every year around this time I would be sent to the bookshelf in our living room to fetch our family’s High Holy Day prayer books. I would find them stuffed in a corner behind Passover Haggadot, with a sheen of dust from not being touched in a year. I would bring them to the kitchen to await transport to Temple, one of last year’s tickets falling out en route. Once we got to services, the book sat on my lap, where sometimes I would follow along, trying to figure out the Hebrew or reading with the English. My favorite part was the pages in the front of the book, full of readings before the service sections begin. Little bits of High Holy Day wisdom that I would peruse if I got bored waiting for things to start or even during services, just never during the sermons, because those were always riveting. The three quotes I just recited all come from that section of Gates of Repentance.

Gates of Repentance is the Reform Machzor, or High Holy Day prayerbook. For the rest of the year, the prayerbook is referred to as a siddur, which comes from the root seder, meaning order. It comes from the idea that the prayers are said in a particular order, and the book helps keep us on track.

Machzor comes from the Hebrew root chazar, which means “return.” The machzor should move us to return to our best self, which often tends to get away from us from one year to the next. That’s the whole reason we’re here, right? To get back to where we want to be in our lives. To shake off the bad habits we have developed. To atone for the mistakes we have made. The machzor is designed to guide us back, to return us to who we want to be.

The machzor that we have tonight has been a part of our High Holy Day experience for almost 40 years. There are some good things about it and some things that could be improved. Since it has been used by the Reform movement for as long as I can remember, it is the only machzor I have ever used. I’m used to it, and coming in to the High Holy Days every year with that familiar burgundy book gives me comfort. There are plenty of parts that I am not crazy about in it. There are long stretches of readings where we only hear the service leader’s voice for quite a long time. There are readings that do not necessarily speak to what repentance means to us today. There are no transliterations. Its readings no longer always reflect the High Holy Day prayer experience that the Reform Jewish community desires in the 21st Century.

Gates of Repentance first came out in 1978, in an attempt to make a machzor that fit the worship experience of the day. It was innovative and exciting for its time. Since then three different versions have come out with linguistic changes to reflect our understanding of God and egalitarianism. But sometimes small changes in language are not enough.

In 2015 the CCAR Press produced Mishkan Hanefesh, a new machzor for our movement. As Rabbi Edwin Goldberg describes it, “Through updated translations, readings, and poetry…Mishkan Hanefesh breathes new life into High Holy Day services.” So I want to share with you a few of these differences to prepare us for the upcoming changes in our machzor.

The first blessing I want to point out is Hineini, the first prayer in our services tonight. Hineini is the prayer of the prayer leader, not meant to be a prayer for the congregation to participate in, but more to eavesdrop on. The service leader asks that their prayers merit the acceptance of the prayers for those they lead. You can find it on page 19 of Gates of Repentance to read along if you want:
Behold me of little merit, trembling and afraid, as I stand before You to plead for Your people. O gracious God, the One enthroned by Israel’s praises, compassionate and loving, accept my petition and that of my people….
In Hebrew, the next part invokes the names of our ancestors, and then implies the thirteen attributes of God—Adonai, Adonai, el rachum v’chanun… But those are simply left out of the translation in Gates of Repentance. 

The translation in Mishkan Hanefesh is more literal, and keeps closer to the Hebrew. If you’re following along, the Hebrew is on page 18:
Here I am. So poor in deeds, I tremble in fear, overwhelmed and apprehensive before You to whom Israel sings praise. Although unworthy, I rise to pray and seek favor for Your people Israel, for they have entrusted me with this task. Therefore—God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; God of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah…Adonai, Adonai—merciful, gracious God…
Something I am particularly happy about is the direct translation of the second paragraph, which Gates of Repentance renders, “O God Supreme…” To be honest, that phrase always sounded like I was not praying so much as ordering a pizza.

If you were looking at the Hebrew while I read from Mishkan Hanefesh, you may have noticed that this is closer to literal. The editors call it an “idea for idea” translation rather than “word for word.” The goal, according to the introduction to Mishkan Hanefesh, is “to convey the intention of the Hebrew prayer and its impact, though a given English word may not match a dictionary gloss of the corresponding Hebrew word.” The translation team considered their work a sacred challenge, and they hope to have created a “prayerful, meaningful experience in English that is equivalent to the experience of praying in Hebrew.” After spending much time with these machzorim, I believe they have successfully done so.

There are a few parts of the service that have additions in Mishkan Hanefesh that are not in Gates of Repentance. The ones that will stand out the most are the extra shofar blasts. Right after the candles are lit for Erev Rosh Hashanah, we find one extra T’kiah. Situated at the very beginning of our Rosh Hashanah celebration, this shofar call is a way to herald the holiday as a community. The shofar is used every day throughout the month of Elul to let the Jewish community know that Rosh Hashanah approaches. On S’lichot the Saturday before Rosh Hashanah, we end services with a T’kiah Gedolah, the longest of the shofar notes, that rings in our ears all the way home. Perhaps we have missed some of these, and are longing to hear the shofar’s sound. Perhaps we are so focused on wondering when we will hear the shofar, we struggle to focus on other blessings. Hearing the shofar at the very beginning of our prayer service allows us to wake up to the sound of the shofar, relax knowing that we have fulfilled the mitzvah of hearing the shofar, and focus on the task of T’shuvah that lies ahead.

There is perhaps nothing that cries Rosh Hashanah quite like the sound of the shofar. In Gates of Repentance, the three sections of the shofar service are placed at the end of the Torah service. After we read haftarah but before we put the Torah in the ark, we hear the calls of the shofar. The three sections signify God’s sovereignty, our communal memory, and the significance of the shofar. They are called Malchuyot, Zichronot, and Shofarot. Mishkan Hanefesh moves the Malchuyot section from the Torah service to the Amidah.

Right after Kedushat Hayom, the blessing that praises God for the holiness of Rosh Hashanah, we find the Malchuyot section of the shofar service, and then we continue with our prayer for thanksgiving. It doesn’t belong here! It’s weird, and may rattle us out of our comfort zone. But that is exactly what the shofar is supposed to do. We are supposed to be stirred by it, moved by it, and what better time to feel uprooted by shofar than right before we thank God. If we can be thankful when we are uncomfortable, imagine how thankful we can be for the rest of the year.

Finally, I want to show you a little bit about the structure of Mishkan Hanefesh. It is very similar to the set up of Mishkan T’filah, with the Hebrew on the upper right of most two page spreads, the “idea for idea” translation below that, and some alternative readings or meditations on the left side. The difference is in the editors’ intent of use of these blessings. In Mishkan Hanefesh, the distinction is also in the background color.

Most of the book is black letters on a white background. Nothing to throw us off here. Some sections have a grey or a blue background. The grey background designates an alternative reading to the blessing on the right side of the page. Poems and readings that we might choose as prayer leaders to offer instead of the traditional prayer on the white background. Some of these are new and were written specifically for Mishkan Hanefesh. Others are the “old favorites” from Gates of Repentance that the editors just couldn’t put in the geniza. From talking with people who have used Gates of Repentance for almost four decades, they were able to discern which readings the people would miss, and they made sure to keep them there.

In addition to readings on a grey background, there are some readings that appear on a blue background. These are meant to be meditations or study texts. Like the readings from the beginning of the Gates of Repentance services, these are meant to distract us in a positive way if we do not feel like following along in the service itself at that particular moment. The grey and blue sections allow us to be elsewhere in our minds, but still on the same page with our community. As an added bonus, the grey sections have no border, but the blue sections do, so if you are using a black and white reproduction or if you have difficulties visually distinguishing between grey and blue, you are not left behind from understanding intent behind the text.

The attributes of the new machzor that I have mentioned tonight only scratch the surface of the innovations of Mishkan Hanefesh, which is why Mishkan Hanefesh will be our study theme for 5778. Throughout the year we will meet to explore our new machzor, in preparation for using it when we are ready as a congregation, hopefully as early as next year. We will study individually and as a community, in our homes and here at CBT, with me or with lay leaders. Questions will be answered in classes and in Weekly Emails.  On Yom Kippur Day this year, our annual “Ask Rabbi Young” study session will be machzor-focused, so come with questions about the new machzor, or about High Holy Day prayers in general.

But please, and this request is a little strange: DON’T BUY A COPY OF MISHKAN HANEFESH. We are looking into a way to get it for the entire congregation, so there should be no need to make anyone spend the money on their own copy. There will be opportunities for dedicating copies in honor of simchas and in memory of loved ones, but there should be no need to buy your own, unless you want one.

So as we begin 5778, may we be blessed with our openness to change. May we enjoy our time in study and in preparation, and may we all find that our prayers this year and always are lifted, and may the machzorim we use help us make that return to the best version of ourselves.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Tishrei 1/September 21: Rosh Hashanah 5778!

On behalf of all of the participants in this year’s Elul Thoughts, we want to wish you and yours a very happy new year. May this Rosh Hashanah bring you joy and fulfillment, peace and strength. May it be a blessed and very sweet 5778!

Shanah Tovah!
April Akiva R.J.E, Director of Religious School Education, Congregation B’nai Tzedek, Fountain Valley, CA
Rabbi Heidi Cohen, Temple Beth Sholom, Santa Ana, CA
Rabbi Sarah DePaolo, Shir HaMa’alot, Irvine, CA
Rabbi Stephen J. Einstein, Founding Rabbi Emeritus, Congregation B’nai Tzedek, Fountain Valley, CA
Rabbi Rachel Kort, Temple Beth El of South Orange County, Aliso Viejo, CA
Rabbi Brad Levenberg, Temple Sinai, Atlanta, GA
Rabbi Eric Linder, Congregation Children of Israel, Athens, GA
Rabbi Alan E. Litwak, Temple Sinai, North Miami Beach, FL
Cantor David Reinwald, Temple Beth Sholom, Santa Ana, CA
Cantorial Soloist Jenna Sagan, Congregation B’nai Tzedek, Fountain Valley, CA
Rabbi Nico Socolovsky, Temple Beth Tikvah, Fullerton, CA
Rabbi Richard Steinberg, Shir Hama’alot, Irvine, CA
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, Congregation Beth Israel, Colleyville, TX
Rabbi Kvod Wieder, Temple Beth El of South Orange County, Aliso Viejo, CA
Rabbi David N. Young, Congregation B’nai Tzedek, Fountain Valley, CA

Rabbi Gersh Zylberman, Temple Bat Yahm, Newport Beach, CA

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Elul 29/September 20

In early June, my wife Natalie went to a four-day conference, and as much as I miss Natalie when she is away, there was a part of me that was excited. I was imagining myself watching all the shows I have wanted to watch but haven’t because her tastes are different, and we like to watch TV together. I was picturing a Game of Thrones/Legends of Tomorrow/Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. marathon from the time the kids went to bed until 2 in the morning.
It didn’t happen exactly the way I had planned.
I woke up that first morning alone with my iPad on my chest and papers strewn across the bed, because instead of taking time to relax the previous evening, I thought I would get just one more thing finished for work. Just one more thing led to another and another, and the next thing I knew, it was morning and I hadn’t even turned on the TV!
Perhaps many of us have been there: making choices that favor our professional life rather than taking time for ourselves. The High Holy Days are our chance to look back at the choices we have made and decide how we want to do better the next time we are confronted with the same decision. Are we going to choose job over self or family? Or will we consider what is really important in our lives as we strive to make 5778 our best, most balanced year ever.
As Elul draws to a close and Rosh Hashanah begins, may we all find balance and inner peace, so that our spiritual journey through the High Holy Days is a meaningful one.

(Rabbi David N. Young)

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Elul 28/September 19

For those of us who have experienced a significant loss in our lives, we have come to expect that feelings of loss will be more palpable at certain times of the year: a yartzeit, a birthday, certain holidays. Our tradition recognizes that the High Holy Days are a time we remember our loved ones. Another name for Rosh HaShannah is Yom Hazikaron, the Day of Remembrance. As God remembers us and we remember the lives we lived this past year, we cannot help but remember our loved ones whom we have lost.

Rituals during our High Holy Days provide tools to help us remember and honor our loved ones' memories. Yizkor, Memorial Services, are included in our Yom Kippur and Shemini Atzeret worship. It is a tradition to light memorials candles as well. In addition, some have a tradition of making cemetery visits during this time of year.

As we take time during this month of Elul to prepare ourselves spiritually for the High Holy Days, let us take the time to prepare ourselves for the sacred obligation of remembering our loved ones. On a practical note, just as we prepare our menus for holiday meals, this Elul message is a reminder to plan cemetery visits and to acquire memorial candles. On a spiritual note, this Elul message is a reminder to begin to prepare emotionally for the intensity of this season which will include feelings of grief and loss.

Who are the significant individuals in your life whom you have lost? How do they continue to shape and influence your life?

(Rabbi Rachel Kort)

Monday, September 18, 2017

Elul 27/September 18

In the Torah portion, Behar-Behukotai, we read the Hebrew word "Yimachu". There are several translations for this particular word. One commentator translates it as "heartsick", another states "rot away", and yet another teaches that it is "melt away".

The context of the use of this word is found in a discussion about how the people will feel when they do not follow God's commandments. The text suggests that such pain will then transform into repentance and bring the people towards God.

When we are honest with ourselves to recognize that we have done wrong, feelings of emptiness, heartsickness and shame pervade the soul as if we were melting or rotting away from our best selves. In the course of the human experiences, these feelings ought to serve a purpose. When feeling Yimachu, a natural response to the failure of integrity, we would do well to let those feelings be a trigger towards repentance and seeking forgiveness. Too often, we sweep our feelings under the rug and pretend that our failures never happened. Such denial burns deep within the soul and most likely hurts others as well.

Let our heartsickness inspire us to be remorseful and then to lift ourselves up and become exemplary in our own eyes, in the eyes of others and mostly, in the eyes of God.

(Rabbi Richard Steinberg)

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Elul 26/September 17

When I work with wedding couples, I employ a pre-marital counselling tool known as Prepare. During my sessions with each couple, we explore multiple dimensions of their relationship; we identify strengths and weaknesses, discuss personality traits, family dynamics, expectations, hopes and dreams; we practice healthy communication and conflict resolution skills. In these sessions we get ready, “Prepare”, not for the wedding itself, but for the day after the wedding, and every day after that. We prepare for their marriage which, we pray, will last for the rest of their lives. During the month of Elul, like a wedding couple nearing their wedding day, as individuals, couples and families, we have the chance to prepare for the Days of Awe that are rapidly approaching. We are called upon to look into the mirror, to identify our strengths and weaknesses, consider our personality traits, family interactions, our expectations, hopes and dreams. While it is true that during the month of Elul we prepare for the High Holy Days, in truth we are really preparing for the day after and every day after that. In truth, we are preparing for the rest of our lives. Are you prepared?
(Rabbi Gersh Zylberman)

Friday, September 15, 2017

Elul 24-25/September 15-16

In respect for Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, we will not be sending you an Elul thought tomorrow so that you can be at rest from your email and other social media. So please enjoy both of these thoughts today!

Shabbat Shalom!

Elul 24/September 15
Today’s Elul Thought, our last Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, is a meditation to help you get ready for Shabbat and the High Holy Days, thanks to Cantor David Reinwald! Just click the link below, press play on the screen that pops up, and enjoy the 6 ½ minutes of relaxation and inspiration!

Elul 25/September 16
Tonight, we will recite Selichot, the series of penitential prayers.  The Selichot service is traditionally held late in the evening, when our resistance to change is low and our sense of vulnerability is high.  It is done on the Saturday night immediately prior to Rosh Hashanah (unless that Saturday is less than three days prior).  Selichot serves as the final push as we approach the Yamim Nora’im – the Days of Awe.  If we have not started thinking about the work that we have to do during these days, now is the time.  A thought as we enter Selichot . . .
So often, when speaking about forgiveness, the focus is on the person who has offended you.
It is as if to forgive is to somehow accept his/her behavior, to move on, and forget
What if the offender does not change?
What if the offender has died and reconciliation is not possible?
What if the other is no longer a part of your life, yet what remains from your encounter with that person still lingers on your soul?
If our focus is on the other, then our chance to forgive is potentially compromised
To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.
Tonight, try not to focus on “the other.”
Rather, focus on yourself.
Forgiveness does not spontaneously bubble to the top, covering up or erasing all wounds
It involves intention, purpose, vision, and work.
It has to be discovered; an expectation of another side to the pain and sense of personal diminishment.

(Rabbi Alan Litwak)

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Elul 23/September 14

The Olympics are coming to LA in 2028!  This is big news for our region.  I remember the 1984 Olympics.  I was so fortunate that I was serving as a Camp Rabbi that summer at Camp Hess Kramer, and the entire camp was privileged  to  attend an Olympics soccer match, held at the Rose Bowl.  Truly, it was an unforgettable experience.

One of the things that makes the Olympics so special is the they occur only once every four years.  (Since the Summer and Winter Olympics alternate, we actually have Olympics excitement every other year.)

Athletes around the world prepare literally for years in order to earn a spot on an Olympics team.  No one achieves the level of excellence required without intensive preparation.

In a way, for Jews, the High Holy Days are our Spiritual Olympics. It always surprises me, therefore,  when our people expect something “big” to happen on these special holidays if they haven’t adequately prepared for them.  In fact, this is what the month of Elul is all about.  It is prep time for our Jewish Olympics.

How can we prepare?  Here are a couple of  ways that Jews have prepared for the High Holy Days for several centuries: One tradition is to sound the Shofar each morning.  Now, there is something that will get you right into the Holy Day spirit! Another custom is to read Psalm 27.  You may find this meditation will help you get focused.

For some of us, pulling out recipes for our favorite Rosh Hashanah foods is a must.  For others, a trip to the cleaners with our Talit is de rigueur.  Still others are making sure they have yahrzeit candles in stock for remembering loved ones on Yom Kippur.  And, of course, attendance at S’lichot services will surely get us to the right place.

These days, many people will take the opportunity to read an Elul gem sent via email from their synagogue—a short thought that moves us along the path of teshuvah/return.  

I know one person who can’t conceive of Rosh Hashanah arriving without first completing a trip to Sephora…and that’s ok, too.

(Rabbi Stephen J. Einstein)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Elul 22/September 13

In his TED Talk, “The Psychology of Your Future Self,” Harvard Professor Dan Gilbert explains the phenomenon of the “End of History Illusion.” He explains that humans think that at any given moment in our personal development, we are finished developing. We believe that our taste in music, our favorite vacation, our level of extroversion, etc, will stay relatively stagnant for the rest of our lives. At the same time, Professor Gilbert explains, we understand fundamentally that change happens to us at every age, but we don’t imagine it is happening to us as fast as it is. Our illusion of what we imagine the future will hold can get in the way of our own progress.

In Judaism, that is why we have T’shuvah. We acknowledge that our imaginings that we cannot change is a human failing. We are changing every day, every moment, and our tastes and styles develop as much as our ability to make ourselves better. If we deny our own ability (or according to Professor Gilbert, our inevitability) to change, we prevent ourselves from taking the steps necessary to embrace the T’shuvah process and turn ourselves into the future selves we know we can be.

(Rabbi David N. Young)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Elul 21/September 12

In Deuteronomy (30:11-14) we find the following teaching:
“Surely this Instruction (Torah), which I enjoin upon you this day, is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach.  It is not in the heavens, that you should say, ‘Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?’  Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?’  No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.”
Which Mitzvot are “in your mouth and in your heart”?
Are there Mitzvot that you’d like to be doing that are in some way “beyond your reach”?
Which Mitzvot would you like to bring into your life in the year to come?

(Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker)

Monday, September 11, 2017

Elul 20/September 11

U’netaneh Tokef is considered one of the most challenging prayers of the High Holidays.  Many have a hard time with its simple reading, that our lives are not really determined by the choices that we make, but our fate is “written on Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur it is sealed.”  Yet, the core of the prayer really comes near its end.  Acts of prayer, righteousness and repentance impact the path of our life.
The Reconstructionist Machzor offers this interpretive U’netaneh Tokef, which captures the essential task of Teshuvah, to evaluate our lives to find the places we might make a change:
Let us ask ourselves hard questions
For this is the time of truth.
           How much time did we waste
In the year that is now gone?
Did we fill our days with life
Or were they dull and empty?
           Was there love inside our home
Or was the affectionate word left unsaid?
Was there real companionship within our family
Or was there a living together and a growing apart?
           Were we a help to our mates
Or did we take them for granted?
How was it with our friends;
Were we there when they needed us or not?
           The kind deed: did we perform it or postpone it?
The unnecessary gibe: did we say it or hold it back?
Did we live by false values?
Did we deceive others?
Did we deceive ourselves?
           Were we sensitive to the rights and feelings
Of those who worked for us?
Did we acquire only possessions
Or did we acquire new insights as well?
           Did we fear what the crowd would say
and keep quiet when we should have spoken out?
Did we mind only our own business
Or did we feel the heartbreak of others?
           Did we live right,
And if not
Then have we learned and will we change?

(Written by Jack Reimer for “Kol HaNeshama: Machzor L’Yamim Noraim, Prayerbook for the Days of Awe” Reconstructionist Press, 1999, page 346)
(Rabbi Daniel Treiser)

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Elul 19/September 10

As I reflect upon my most recent visit to Israel, I was struck by the fact that we visited the coastal town of Akko in the same day that we made our way to Yad VaShem, Israel¹s official memorial to the Holocaust. The crashing sounds of relentless waves dancing in the shadows of light and dark, the obscuring clouds and the small rays of sun fighting to be seen... all of it framing a memory of 6 million souls who perished in a sea of hate. Yet, as I wandered the waves of the memorial, I could not help but recall the lighthouse I saw in Akko that morning. The lighthouse, and the reminder that we can all shine a light into the darkness...each and every one of us can do our part to bring light to pledge "never again." We all can be that lighthouse, right? With the rising tides of darkness all around us it seems we need more lighthouses... Who will commit to being one in the year ahead? Who will stand up to the sea and the darkness in 5778? Who will do more than just remember?

(Rabbi Brad Levenberg)

Friday, September 8, 2017

Elul 17-18/September 8-9

In respect for Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, we will not be sending you an Elul thought tomorrow so that you can be at rest from your email and other social media. So please enjoy both of these thoughts today!

Shabbat Shalom!

Elul 17/September 8
..The chief of the police asked: “How am I to understand that God, who is omniscient, asks Adam, ‘Where are you?’”
The rabbi replied: “Do you believe that scripture is eternal and encompasses every age, every generation, and every person?” ---- “Well now,” said the Zaddik, “in every age God addresses every person with the question, ‘Where are you in your world? Already so many of your allotted years and days have passed. How far have you come in your world?’
Perhaps God will say, ‘You have lived forty-six years. Where are you now?’”
When the chief of police heard the exact number of his years, he pulled himself together, clasped the rabbi’s shoulder, and exclaimed: “Bravo!” but his heart trembled.
"When asking in this manner, God does not really want to be informed about something that is not known. Rather, God wishes to affect something in a person that can only be effected by such a question. The question is intended to penetrate the human heart but can do so only if the person allows the heart to be penetrated"
(Martin Buber - The way of Man).
No matter how big our accomplishments are, as long as we don't submit to the question, we will miss an essential element of our existence. It’s like having the newest Smartphone without any 4G connection or WiFi. It is potentially great but you can’t really use it.
Under all the noise that surrounds our lives there is an I, you, me, who is struggling to hear the small voice asking AYEKA? Where are you? An invitation to self-awareness that is being extended to us in every single moment of our lives, when the mere act of hearing it opens for us the possibility of a magic encounter with our souls... A question, a GPS to our souls!
(Rabbi Nico Socolovsky)

Elul 18/September 9
Why My Mother Cried

Each year, while preparing for the High Holy Days, my mother would blast Avinu Malkeinu over the stereo and sob.  I can clearly remember her sitting on the edge of the stairs crying her eyes out, as if someone had just passed away.  She would set the table with a white cloth her late mother had embroidered and cry some more.  Her tears made me uncomfortable and irritated—I couldn’t understand why she had to act so melancholy before the holidays.  
Years later, I invited my mother and her sister over for Rosh Hashanah dinner.  By this point in time, my mother’s health and mental acuity had deteriorated, so her somber moments were few and far between. My table was adorned with the embroidered white tablecloth.  Upon seeing it, my aunt began to cry and call out for her mother.  I let her cry—I didn’t know what else to say or do.
While setting my table for the first Rosh Hashanah after my mother’s passing, I kept the tradition of blasting Avinu Malkeinu over my stereo. And as I took out the family tablecloth, I completely lost it.  Despite my children being in the room, I could not help myself from crying deep, painful sobs.  It wasn’t until that moment that I understood why my mother had cried all those years.
Traditions surrounding the holidays are beautiful and uplifting, but at the same time they can bring out deep emotions from within.  These traditions endure, forever connecting us to those who came before us. I’ve come to realize that it is sometimes alright to shed tears amidst the joy.

(April Akiva, R.J.E.)