December 7, 2019

A High Holy Days Appeal for the Skeptics Among Us

I know about packing but what does it mean to “prepare,” especially my heart? What’s with everyone talking about their hearts these days, anyway? If it’s time to “prepare” for the High Holy Days, how about sending us a plane ticket to Hawaii, a gift card for a new air conditioner or taking my kids to their dental appointments? Or just put some gas in the car. That’s a fresh start.

This time of year, I hear my own inner skeptic say, “Why bother?” Isn’t this idea of starting the new year over a bit outdated? After all, we are Jews. There’s no Times Square fanfare or a ball to drop. Yes, there are apples and honey, but frankly, I’d rather eat a brownie. 

Where might this “preparation” lead me? I would get all gussied up, brave the traffic, miss work, fight for parking, struggle to find a seat, then what? I would sit in a big, old, echoing building we rarely enter because it reminds us of funerals and weddings turned into divorces. Then I would listen to a rabbi who has no idea who I am and what I’ve been through tell me, “Come on, you’ve got this. Have a little faith. Give a little tzedakah. Call your mother.”

Big exhale. Join me. Exhale. Yes, we are all in it together. 

We are all wondering: How can I begin again? What does forgiveness even look like, let alone sound like? What if I’m not interested in prayer, God or even the idea of being Jewish, especially in light of the news? I’d rather go to yoga. What if I commit to binge watch “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”? That’s culture. That’s tradition. Isn’t that what this time of year is all about? Oh, but I’ll fast on Yom Kippur. 

So why be a Jew this year? Because:

1. We need our tribe. The world is falling apart and many are laughing. The Jewish people have not survived this long to be made a mockery of. 

2. Your voice, your prayers, your questions, your doubts, your joys are needed in synagogues. It is up to us to fill our halls and sanctuaries with our voices. These are our Houses of God. We are safe as we stand together. 

3. We cannot Jew alone. Our existence is an act of revolution, audacity and hope. To Jew requires action, choices, a stand, a way of being in the world that reflects a commitment to contribute — not simply to exist. 

4. We change one another. When we come together, we galvanize our strength, even if wavering, to live with compassion, dignity, peace and justice. 

5. Just as we are searching, God is searching for us in one another. When we look into each other’s eyes, we see the source of all creation. Potential, possibility and peace are not found via our screens, only our screams: our doubts, our fears, our pounding hearts. 

6. Birth is not without pain and tears. Rosh Hashanah wails of infertility, fratricide, betrayal, sacrifice and new beginnings born out of the impossible. It is a deep immersion into what’s possible. Share your truth and be met by depth in our tradition. 

7. Yom Kippur pulls us to our knees and then onto our faces to sense our fragility, our mortality, our vessels of spirit fueled only by faith and grace. Yom Kippur is a chance to take our pulse and decide if we want to live or die and how. 

8. AtONEment. We gather to practice and reinforce what it means to be a community. It’s messy and layered with history, and, when we are all together in the same room, our houses of worship become the Holy of Holies, crucibles that forge our sense of messy and urgent oneness. Our fragile and fiercely vital organism, personal and planetary, depend on our (re)dedication.

9. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. You know the story about the person on the roof during the hurricane shouting at God? We are the firefighters. We are the police. We are the roof. We are the neighbors. We are the cat. We are the willingness to ask and receive, give and relish in one another’s desire to contribute and matter. It’s time to get off    whether it’s the roof, our resentment, our disappointment, our cynicism or our resignation. It’s time to create a new beginning.  

10. You never know what tomorrow may bring, so today we show up. Today we Jew up. All are welcome: Jews, those who love us, those with a grandparent who loved a Jew, those hungry for Spirit, hungry for justice, hungry for Torah, hungry for life. Every one of us matters. See you in shul.


Rabbi Alyson Solomon is the interim rabbi at Beth Chayim Chadashim. She hosts the Salty-Torah vlogs at thisisRAS.com.