Excerpt From The Rosh Hashanah Yom Kippur Survival Kit
(From Introduction) Just Do It and Don’t Ask Questions
The dominant medium for communicating Judaism to this generation has been the synagogue or community Hebrew schools. Whatever Jewish education most Jews possess today came from those after-school or Sunday morning classes that we all swore we would never subject our children to. Another medium was our parents or grandparents. While no one can dispute that their hearts were deeply rooted in the right place, the fact remains that even the deepest of sentiments in no way readied them for the task of articulating Jewish values in a relevant and cogent manner. More often than not, their fallback position was, “We do it because we’re Jewish and that’s just the way it is.” And for better or worse, such an argument no longer carries the weight it once did.
We find ourselves in a bewildering world. We want to make sense of what we see around us and to ask: What is the nature of the universe? Where is our place in it and where did it and we come from? Why is it the way it is? Up to now, most scientists have been too occupied with the development of new theories that describe what the universe is to ask the question why.
— Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History Of Time
The same, I believe, can be said about Judaism today. As educated adults who happen to be Jewish, we tend to look at our religious heritage and find it to be rather bewildering. We would like to make sense of it, to find for ourselves a place within it, but we just aren’t sure what to make of the whole thing.
To a degree, the quandary of Jewish identity also stems from a prominent focus on the what and how of Jewish life at the expense of the why. A great problem is that Jewish education has stressed the mechanics of Judaism (the what and the how) and has neglected the reasons, meaning and spiritual ideas behind Jewish practice (the why). In a world where people carefully consider which activities will fill their time, you had better give them a darn good reason for choosing High Holiday services over the World Series, or quite frankly, you don’t stand a chance! …
The Why of Being Jewish
… This book has been written for three types of people. Firstly, it is for people who have given-up on formalized Judaism and who are not planning to attend synagogue this year. If this is you, then I want to make the following promise: This book will give you a radically different understanding of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and perhaps your entire Jewish identity. Read this book—I dare you—and you will find that there just might be a side to Judaism, and even to synagogue, that you can learn to enjoy and look forward to.
Secondly, if you are planning to attend services but are dreading the experience, then again, this book has been written for you. What’s more, I would suggest you read it twice. Once during the weeks before Rosh Hashanah and again during the services themselves.
Lastly, if you are among those who already have some sense of the meaning of these holidays, then I think that you—perhaps more than anyone else—will find the Survival Kit to be a worthwhile intellectual and spiritual supplement to your experience in synagogue this year.
(From Chapter 4) How to Survive Synagogue
But Rabbi, even if I can read some of the prayers, I still don’t understand what I’m saying…To tell you the truth, I’d rather take a quiet reflective walk in the park this year than spend all that time in synagogue saying a bunch of words that don’t really mean much to me anyway.
Prayer is meant to be a powerful, relevant and meaningful experience. At the same time, a lengthy synagogue experience can be a bit intimidating. The following is a list of perspectives to keep in mind this year that should help to make the services as personally uplifting as possible.
1) Five minutes of prayer said with understanding, feeling and a personal connection to the words and their significance means far more than five hours of lip service. Therefore, don’t look at your prayer book as an all-or-nothing proposition consisting of hundreds of prayers that absolutely must be recited. Rather, try looking at each page as its own self-contained opportunity for prayer, reflection and inspiration. If you are successful with one page that’s great; if not, then just move right along to the next page, the next of many opportunities.
2) “Self-imposed expectations lead to self-induced frustrations.” Therefore, don’t expect to be “moved” by every prayer or to follow along with the entire service.
3) Read slowly through the prayers, carefully thinking about what you’re saying, and don’t be concerned about lagging behind the congregation. Look, the worst that could happen is that you will be on a different page than everyone else, but don’t worry, the pages will probably be announced so you can always catch up.
4) If a particular sentence or paragraph touches you, linger there a while. Say the words over and over to yourself—softly, but audible to your own ear. Allow those words to touch you. Feel them. And if you’re really brave, then close your eyes and say those words over and over for a couple of moments.
5) You’re not that proficient in Hebrew? Don’t worry, God understands whatever language you speak. And like a loving parent, He can discern what’s in your heart even if you can’t quite express it the way you would like.
6) As you sit in your synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur you are joined by millions of Jews in synagogues all over the world. You are a Jew, and by participating in the holidays you are making a powerful statement about your commitment to Judaism and the Jewish people.
This is an excerpt from the “Rosh Hashanah Yom Kippur Survival Kit”.
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Whether you read Hebrew or not, call (646) 678-2084.
No tickets needed, but reservations are strongly encouraged.
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in Brooklyn, located at 3011 Avenue K,
between Nostrand Avenue and East 31st Street,
is offering FREE seats for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.
To make reservations, call Rabbi Yehudah Levin (718) 469-6999.