Rabbi Cassi Kail
The final month of Jewish year is about to begin. On August 21, we will usher in the Hebrew month of Elul. The words High Holy Days often conjure up images of Rosh HaShanah celebrations, and the solemn atonement of Yom Kippur. While these two holidays are certainly highlights of the High Holy Day season, we are fortunate that the season is more expansive than just two days. In post-biblical times, it extended to include every day from the first of Elul until the end of Sukkot. This 50 day period gives us ample time to reflect, forgive, atone, and look to the future. We hope that doing so will enable us to start off the new year with more self-awareness, fortitude, and optimism for the year ahead.
Covid-19 means that our High Holy Day experience will be different this year. While it has its downsides, it also presents opportunities for us. One of those is the ability to come together each day in community throughout the month of Elul.
There are many common practices during Elul, from keeping a journal, to sounding the shofar, to reciting Psalm 27 each day. I am excited to announce that this year the Temple is presenting a daily program, making it easier to take part in many of these practices. It will be available each morning at 9:00 am on Facebook Live as well as the Temple’s YouTube page.
Every morning, we will listen to a reflection on a High Holy Day theme by a member of the Temple Beth El family. The pieces that have been submitted already are stirring, inspiring, and heartwarming. A member of the community will sound the shofar. (If you can sound shofar and want to take part, please reach out to me right away. I would love to include you!) We will offer prayers in word and song and receive a daily prompt for personal exploration. Throughout the month we will also explore Psalm 27, which feels particularly relevant this year. “Don’t hide your face from us,” it pleads. We call out to God for connection at a time of so much loss and suffering. “Instruct me, O God, in your way, and lead me in the straight path,” it teaches. We ask for guidance as we seek moral clarity in a chaotic world. “Let your heart be strong and of good courage,” it ends. We summon our strength and resilience as we strive to be our best versions of ourselves.
During this particularly challenging time, we can create a sacred community of encouragement, love, contemplation, and insight. May this program be just the start of a meaningful High Holy Day experience that takes us into the fall and beyond.