My annual custom on the last day of the High Holy Days is to daven at the Yom Kippur minyan of Chabad of Rego Park. Not a chasid, not a member of the Chabad-Lubavitch chasidic movement, I feel great spiritual authenticity in the atmosphere of intimacy, surrounded by a few hundred other worshippers, which Rabbi Eli Blokh creates.
His Yom Kippur services take place in the basement social hall of the Queens Jewish Center, a large Modern Orthodox synagogue around the corner from my apartment.
Timing is everything: Given this year’s High Holy Days schedule, along with the renewed rush that arrives after Labor Day, coordinating a Sunday evening in September for our first synagogue Book Group meeting of the season proved more challenging than choosing what we would read, which we’d discussed before our summer break. Thus it happened that the only Sunday available was the one that fell between the Ten Days, after Rosh HaShanah and two evenings prior to Yom Kippur. Our reading selection: “Metamorphosis” and other stories by Franz Kafka.
Around the Christian holiday season, one often hears an old-fashioned song about the fate of the fowl destined for the festal board: "Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat."
Of course, for Jews -- especially Ashkenazi ones -- the humble chicken is often the holiday bird of choice around the new year: it's suitable both for consuming and for flinging about in an act of atonement called "kaparos."
Awe – a concept that is so hard to grasp. There are not many things that produce in us a pure sense of awe. If you are like me, you may use the word “Awesome” in your daily speech, but rarely with a true feeling of something being full of awe. Awe seems to contain within it something….majestic….holy….and even fearsome. I think the key to this season, and the place it holds in so many of our lives, lies in this word: Awe.
For the first half of her life, the woman born Adrienne Cecile Rich, in Baltimore, 1929, lived the life you would have expected. She was baptized and raised in the Episcopalian church; her father was a medical professor at Johns Hopkins; her mother a pianist and composer. Adrienne went to Radcliffe and wrote poetry. By 1950, the kingmaker of mid-century poets, W.H. Auden, helped her publish her first collection, “A Change of World,” which featured accomplished if rather dull formal English verse—punctual meters, rhymes, etc.
Over the years, I’ve had what must be tens of thousands of conversations with congregants, and strangers that I’ve met in the context of my work. I couldn’t begin to count the number of times those conversations began with the words “Rabbi, can I ask you a silly question?”
The good teacher — or should I say the wise teacher -— will tell you that there are no silly questions. There are silly answers, to be sure, but very few if any silly questions.
As the Yom Kippur approaches, rather than present a specific ethical quandary I present some reflections and tips on what this holy day can mean for us as we perform the sacred act of engaging with other human beings and with God: