High Holy Days
Commonly translated as repentance but derived from the Hebrew verb “lashuv,” which means “to turn”, teshuva is perhaps the most important of many themes that dominate the High Holy Days (“Yamim Nora’im” or “Days of Awe”). Turning into the self is a critical first step in this annual heshbon hanefesh (accounting of the soul) but we also turn outward to evaluate and realign our role as stewards of the world. Through prayer, study, self-scrutiny, and repairing our relationships with each other, we seek to inspire a rebirth within ourselves and a recommitment to the sacred path that will ensure a better future for our people and for the world.
The spiritual work of the High Holy Days begins in the month of Elul. The shofar blast at the end morning minyan and a daily email blast with Elul Reflections shake us out of our complacency and call us to reflect on our behavior over the past year.
During Rosh Hashanah, a two-day festival that celebrates the birth of the world, we reflect on God’s call to just and righteous behavior and acknowledge that our response to that call will determine our individual and collective fate for the year to come.
Tashlikh by the River
During the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, BJ members gather in Riverside Park for tashlikh, a spiritual practice in which we symbolically let go of the harmful behaviors that have impeded our growth over the past year by casting pieces of bread, representing those behaviors, into the Hudson River.
Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) begins at sundown on the 10th of Tishrei. Before evening services, families gather for a se’udah mafseket, a final meal, before the 25 hour fast to come. By refraining from eating and drinking, wearing leather shoes, washing or anointing one’s body and physical intimacy we fulfill the biblical commandment to “afflict one’s soul” so that we may focus solely on the intense spiritual work. Many choose to wear white clothing, an external symbol of our internal desire to purify our souls. As we embrace with joy and celebration at the prospect of a New Year in Yerusalyim shel matah (on earth) and a Yerushalim shel malah (a heavenly, spiritual Jerusalem), we emerge from the High Holy Days uplifted and inspired, emboldened with new spiritual fervor, daring to dream again for redemption for ourselves, for our people and for the world.
The Words and Music of the BJ Service
Words. Mahzor Lev Shalem, the special prayer book we use for the High Holy Days, is both uplifting and challenging. It’s soaring language, commentary and transliteration make it possible for everyone to fully participate in our services.
Music. The traditional and powerful melodies of BJ’s renowned music of the High Holy Days open our hearts to the possibility that prayer, acts of charity, and repentance can transform us and inspire us.
Sermons The Rabbis’ collaborate on essential themes for the holidays, and each deliver their own unique and inspiring Divrei Torah over the course of the hagim. All of the Divrei Torah are available online here.
What’s different. A service in memory of the victims of the Holocaust which features BJ member’s personal stories takes the place of the Eleh Ezkerah (“These I Recall”) traditional martyrology service on the afternoon of Yom Kippur. Ne’ilah service concludes with a Procession of the Children carrying candles to the bimah where they join with the community in Havdalah and a final blast of the Shofar.
High Holy Days 5778
Saturday, November 17 | Following Kiddush | BJ Chapel
What does it mean to forgive? Does forgiving mean we have to condone hurtful actions? In this session with Rabbi Shuli Passow, we will bring gentle presence to the ways we’ve been hurt and have hurt others, as a step towards releasing ourselves from the corrosive chains of resentment. Forgiveness is a practice of courage and compassion: come prepared to share, to listen without judgement, and to open your heart in love.
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