January 22, 2019

What the Eclipse Taught Me About the High Holy Days

Photo courtesy of USAF/ Museum of Aviation.

Every year my family and I go on a summer road trip. This year we chose to travel to Casper, Wyoming to experience the Totality of the Great American Solar Eclipse, 2 minutes and 26 seconds when the moon totally covers the sun. The temperature drops, the birds go silent, night falls, the stars come out and you have a 360 degree panorama of sunset. It is nothing less than a physical encounter with God.

We viewed the eclipse with a gathering of both veteran and amateur astronomers. These astronomers taught my family more about the universe’s planetary system in three hours than we could have otherwise learned in a lifetime.

The tension was mounting as we counted down the seconds to experience the unimaginable. With 80 percent of the sun being covered by the moon, we could feel the temperatures dropping and the wind picking up. At 90 percent we could sense the sunlight growing weaker like a winter day in the late afternoon. With a minute to go until Totality we noticed the western horizon darkening as a giant shadow raced towards us. It was impossible to see the leading edge of the 1720 mile-an-hour moon shadow as it engulfed us.

And then all at once the crowd roared “ooh” and “aah” as the moon completely covered the sun in the most spectacular sight I have ever seen in my life.

The moon, physically invisible up until now, was perfectly positioned over the sun as white wispy streams of light poured out of the entire 360° circumference of the sun beyond the edges of the darkened moon. It seemed as if it took up the whole sky.

The stars came out, along with Venus and Saturn. We were living Totality! It was the fastest and most spectacular 2 minutes and 26 seconds of my life.

We didn’t want it to end. Like the shofar blast at the end of Yom Kippur Day at the Neilah service when you just want to forever hold onto your breakthrough to God and His loving embrace.

It was a paranormal experience. Despite all my preparation for this instant, it was totally surreal. Everyone around us was in an altered state. Stunned. Euphoric. Holding onto the moment. Even the veteran eclipse chasers were overcome with awe. I felt like I was getting a glimpse of God revealing His presence on Earth.

The astronomers told us that before you go into Totality you have to have a plan. How would you make the most of the 146 seconds? What are you going to see, record, and think? Everybody had to know how to budget their time. Do we do that in life every 146 seconds? Shouldn’t we? Most of the time we don’t use our time this planned out, assuming for sure we will get another 146 seconds, hours, days or months.

I wish I could always be in this state of mind of total reality. No one was daydreaming. Smart phones were out of view.

I also made it a point of saying the Shema. I wanted to lock in this moment forever and anchor it to my relationship with God. I looked at my children and wife, Rochel. They were in their own world trying to process this.

We wanted to grab this for eternity. I will never let this moment go and will always thank God for it. But in truth God gives us Totality every second with all the blessings that fill our lives if we would just stop and consider.

Today God gave us a rare gift from on high. I hope to take it with me to Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, into my Sukkah, and for the rest of my life!

I want every day to be Totality with my Creator. I want to be aware. I never want to daydream, rather to be excited by life always. I want to be striving for things that are so important and meaningful that pettiness and disappointment have no space in my mind.

The eclipse taught me that you can have the sun, moon and earth on different orbits and in a rare synchronistic moment, they create a phenomenon that seems beyond probability.

So too in our lives when we are challenged and trying to solve so many dilemmas. After much effort the moving pieces all come together in a harmonious solution that is beyond our imagination. In fact, sometimes we look back on our lives and come to realize that certain situations have resolved themselves, eclipsing the issue we were so worried about.

Isn’t that the ultimate message of the Days of Awe? At-one-moment – atonement! May you too reach Totality in your life.


Rabbi Aryeh Markman is Co-Director, The Western Wall Experience and Executive Director, Aish LA. Reprinted with permission from aish.com.


Study your heart out in Israel, no matter your age

Whether you’ve got a sudden hankering to explore your nascent Jewish identity or you miss your rabbinic training of yore, there’s probably a program of study for you in the Holy Land. Although many associate Israel study options with the post-high school “gap year,” this diverse array of programs welcome adults of all ages.

To examine Judaism as an intellectual, but with limited background, men in their 20s can try the three- to five-week Aish Essentials (Israel.aish.com/essentials) which, along with Aish’s women’s JEWEL program (jewel4women.com), for women ages 19-30, explores basic tenets of Jewish belief, ritual and practice. Aish Essentials is free, JEWEL costs up to $2,500, with many scholarships available, and both include housing and meals. For those in their 30s looking for more in-depth learning, there’s Eyaht (eyaht.org) for women and Bircas HaTorah (bircas.org) for men; cost and length of study vary.

As the only Jewish holistic women’s seminary in Israel, B’erot Bat Ayin (berotbatayin.org) mixes textual study of Tanakh, halachah (Jewish law) and chasidut (Jewish mysticism) with organic gardening, herbology and studying Jewish sources on healing and sustainable living. Located in the village of Bat Ayin, a 20-minute drive south of Jerusalem, the program aims to engage students’ minds while allowing them to develop their creativity through writing, music, movement and drama. Tuition for semester and yearlong programs is $820 per month, which includes housing and four meals per week.

The Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem (conservativeyeshiva.org) features intensive ulpan or Talmud study, textual study in Bible, halachah, Jewish thought and more, plus skills workshops, tours and volunteering. For ages 19 and up, the yearlong program costs $7,250; summer program is $800 for three weeks or $1,100 for six weeks, and does not include housing, food or books. Summer students can also opt for the intensive Volunteer and Study track where you volunteer half-days with an Israeli nonprofit.

Israel Way/Oranim (destinationisrael.com) offers a variety of study, volunteer and internship options in Israel, including an NYU-Poly master’s degree program, where you can earn a master’s in management or organizational behavior in 10 to 12 months ($28,840 tuition includes housing, studies and trips); Israel Teaching Fellows, where college graduates volunteer for 10 months to teach English in low-performing Israeli schools ($1,000 tuition includes airfare); and numerous internship and volunteer opportunities at kibbutzim, hotels in the Negev and more. Cost and length of programs vary. 

The five key aspects of the Livnot U’Lehibanot (livnot.com) experience are explore, challenge, empower, inspire and connect. Through exploring Israel intimately (think jumping off a 30-foot waterfall in Yehudia), learning in and outside of the classroom, performing community service like apartment painting for the elderly or restoration of the Jerusalem forest, and becoming part of a global community, students leave the program revitalized and inspired. Based in Jerusalem and Tzfat, the programs range from one to six weeks and cost about $100 a week, including room and board.

Makor (makorjerusalem.org), a new gap-year program started by the Sephardic Educational Center in Jerusalem and based on Israeli mechinot — self-study programs prior to army service — blends classical Jewish text study with leadership-skills development, social action and immersion in Israeli culture. Zionist, Israeli-style and co-ed, the program features traditional learning and Israeli mifgashim — encounters — for both Sephardim and Ashkenazim. Tuition of $18,000 includes meals, books, trips, an on-campus gym and medical coverage.

Women of all ages and backgrounds are welcome to study for any amount of time at Neve Yerushalayim’s Jerusalem campus (nevey.org) to discover a deeper connection to Judaism. There’s a six-week Mechina program for those with limited background; Shalhevet, for those with a solid learning background; and a general year-long program, all of which aim to provide increased Jewish knowledge, enhanced spiritual growth and answers to fundamental Jewish questions. Tuition, room and meals are $1,600 per month. 

Nishmat’s Alisa Flatow International Post-College English Program (nishmat.net) for post-college women teaches students the skills needed to understand and analyze classic texts and reflect on how they inform modern Jewish thought and practice. The international student body also volunteers in the local community and goes on organized trips. While the English-speakers program is a unique community, students also share holidays and Shabbat with the larger Israeli Nishmat community in Jerusalem. Tuition for the year is $8,000, and room and board is $4,000.

A co-ed seminary for post-university students in Jerusalem, Pardes (pardes.org.il) combines in-depth textual study with social action and learning opportunities beyond the text. Committed to traditional Jewish halachah, Pardes welcomes students of all religious affiliations and backgrounds. Tuition for the year is $5,750 and covers classes and extracurricular activities only. Half-year and summer study programs are also available. 

Shapell’s (darchenoam.org) in Jerusalem aims to provide a holistic Jewish education to meet the challenges of modern Jewish life for male college graduates and professionals. Through helping students develop textual and analytical skills and approach classic Jewish sources, the school promotes a sophisticated and balanced approach to Torah Judaism. Tuition of $15,500 includes full room and board, activities and classes. Shapell’s sister school, Midreshet Rachel, targets educated, adult Jewish women to study, build skills and cultivate a Torah background. Tuition is $9,600 and does not include room or board. Students can opt to live in the school’s housing for $325 per month. 

A religious-Zionist and Modern Orthodox post-college yeshiva for men, in Israel, Yeshivat Torah Hamivtar (ytyh.org) in Gush Etzion focuses on exploring Talmud and classic Jewish texts with intellectual honesty and rigor. Tuition of $15,000 includes housing, a monthly trip, room and full board. Students can also come for shorter periods of time, paying a rate of $1,500 a month. l

Rosh Hashanah ‘in the house tonight’ dances into the new year

Aish brings together rhythm, beats and davening for their Rosh Hashanah ‘in the house tonight’ dancing spectacle that parodies LMFAO’s Party Rock Anthem.  Here’s the chorus from the lyrics, but be sure to watch the video for the full effect.

Rosh Hashanah’s in the house tonight
All the world is passing through the light
Let’s all get written in the book of Life
Shana Tova—it’s High Holiday time