Getting Ready (August 2020 KOL)

What a month this has been!  It has been a wonderful full start to being part of the TBS family.  I have enjoyed getting to know so many of you through online worship, Zoom chats, and Meet and Greet sessions.  I am so grateful for the warm welcome that you’ve shown me and my family.  Thank you to the entire community for the ways you have made us feel at home.

Even as I’ve been busy with services, students, committees, and working with the extraordinarily dedicated and helpful Temple staff and lay leaders, one question has been surfacing with increasing intensity.  What will we do for the High Holy Days this year?  What will they look like and feel like in this time of pandemic?  How will we, as a community, prepare?

In answering that question, first, a story:  There once was a student who knew that it was customary to spend the month of Elul, the month before the High Holy Days, deep in preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  “But why a full month?” she asked her rabbi.  “I only need a day or two to review the prayers, then I’ll be able to pray them just fine.”

The rabbi responded with a question.  “If there’s an exam at school, and one student studies for a week, the other for a day, who will likely get a better mark?”  Before the student could answer, the rabbi asked another question.  “Two violin players prepare for a concert.  One practices for an hour or two each day, the other practices for six or seven hours.  Who will be more confident on stage?”  And a third question came from the rabbi, “Two athletes will compete in a marathon.  One trains for a week.  The other has been training for six months.  Who will have more stamina for the race?”

The student thought she understood the lesson – better preparation make you better able to say the prayers.  “But it’s not really about the prayers,” said the rabbi said.  “It’s about preparing ourselves, reviewing our year, making amends, and pledging to do better in the year to come.  That’s the work of the month of Elul.  So when the holidays arrive, you are ready like the well-prepared student, the well-rehearsed musician, the well-trained athlete.”

It won’t surprise you to know that the logistical preparations for the High Holy Days have already begun.  While I would like nothing more than to gather with you all in person, shoulder to shoulder, hundreds of us together in the Sanctuary and Social Hall at TBS, it just isn’t possible for us to do that this year.  Instead, we have been making plans for an online High Holy Days, a mix of live-streamed services, videos to watch, interactive Zoom sessions, perhaps a few carefully socially-distant outdoor experiences, and other memorable moment.  We will translate our TBS traditions online and make spiritual, communal opportunities for us to be together.  It will be different from what we have done in the past, but it will be meaningful in a similar way.  Stay tuned for many more details to come in the weeks ahead.

But more than the logistical preparations, my challenge to you is about the deeper preparations we might each undertake.  The month of Elul begins on August 21 this year.  That gives us plenty of time to prepare ourselves for the spiritual side of the High Holy Days, reviewing our year, apologizing to those we may have hurt, and setting goals for our actions in the year to come.  It is possible, of course, to arrive at the High Holy Days and jump right into the introspection and reflection the season requires of us.  But isn’t it better if we exercise those mental muscles in advance?  Won’t we have more stamina for understanding ourselves, be more confident in our contemplation, make better marks in making amends, if we have taken time to get ready?

Here, too, there will be new and different opportunities to prepare.  Watch for announcements about special online gatherings, classes, and experiences to help us prepare for the High Holy Days.

It has been a great month for me of settling into the TBS community.  And I look forward to getting ready for the upcoming High Holy Day season together.