The following are responses to an invitation from New Jersey Jewish News to leaders of area congregations to share their High Holy Day messages.
Put down the phone
I RECENTLY READ an article about the trend of people choosing an old flip phone over the latest smart device. These phones have an advantage over their high-tech competitors — low functionality. About all you can do with a flip phone is make calls and send texts. These devices are less of a distraction and time-waster than a smartphone.
Despite the amazing information we can pull from our phones and the conveniences they bring, some people are looking for ways to reduce their addiction to their devices. We can all point to moments in our lives when the phone has been a barrier to a real experience: a wedding or concert where guests watch the proceedings through their screens, or a restaurant where everyone is staring at their phones rather than interacting with each other.
Sometimes you need to put down the phone and actually live your life. Perhaps this should be a motto for our connected age, and it could also be a call to action on the High Holy Days. This time of introspection is a great moment to disconnect from our technology and reconnect with friends, family, and ourselves. It is time to make experiences and contemplate them, not record them or share them on social media.
At the end of the morning services on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we sing the piyyut (liturgical poem) HaYom, “Today,” in which we ask God to strengthen us and help us grow today, at this very moment. We cannot enjoy those blessings if we are distracted. So put down the phone and be a little more mindful today as we ask God to seek our well-being on these High Holy Days.
Rabbi Benjamin J. Adler
Adath Israel Congregation
SHANA TOVA! Rosh Hashana is the birthday of the universe! God caused the “big bang” approximately 13 billion, seven hundred million, five thousand, seven hundred and seventy-six years ago (13,700,005,776). Let us all celebrate the wonder of creation, and may this New Year be one of health and happiness for you and your family.
All of us at Congregation Beth Chaim hope that your year will be blessed with goodness and joy, and that you will find good friends and companions to share life’s journey.
May you be inscribed in the Book of Life!
Rabbi Adena Blum
Rabbi Eric B. Wisnia
Congregation Beth Chaim
The power of working together
DURING THE HOLIDAY of Sukkot we eat in the sukka with our family and friends as we are mindful of the blessings that we enjoy. Sukkot gives us pause to think about those in our midst who are homeless and live in temporary dwellings throughout the year. Sukkot asks us to make a commitment to help those less fortunate than ourselves.
On Sukkot, we take the etrog (citron), lulav (palm), hadasim (myrtle), and aravot (willow) each day and bind them together. Our tradition teaches us that the etrog represents our heart; the lulav, our spine; the hadasim, our eyes; and the aravot, our lips. Just like the four species are bound together, so must our whole bodies be bound to God. This is a powerful statement and gives us an opportunity to once again examine our relationship to God.
As the four species come together, so must the members of our community commit to working with one another to strengthen the bonds between us. When we work together we have the power to make wonderful things happen. As we recite the blessing over the four species during Sukkot, may it inspire our actions during the upcoming year to bring us closer to one another and work for the greater good so that we can ensure that our community and the State of Israel will remain vital, strong, and vibrant.
My best wishes to you for a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year 5776. Shana Tova!
Rabbi Jay M. Kornsgold
Beth El Synagogue
Not one way
ONE OF MY favorite stories is about a man who had never gone to religious school and never studied Hebrew or Judaism, but he knew that he was Jewish. One year he decided that he would go to the synagogue for the first time and observe the High Holy Days. Frightened, he walked into the sanctuary quietly and sat in the back. About half-way through the service, he remembered his grandfather teaching him the alef-bet, the Hebrew alphabet, when he was very young. He started to quietly murmur the letters, “Alef, bet, gimel…” proceeding through the whole alphabet and then repeating it again and again. Without realizing it, his murmuring got louder and louder until his neighbors complained to the ushers. Finally the rabbi, wondering what was happening, went to speak to this mystery man. She asked him what he was doing, and he responded, “I don’t know the traditional prayers, but I know the prayer in my heart, and if I say all the letters of the alef-bet, I trust that God will be able to put them all together.”
As we enter the year 5776, there is not one way to act, there is not one way to feel, and there is not one way to pray. May these High Holy Days not be a time of intimidation, but rather a time of exploration, introspection, and inspiration to be kinder, gentler, more understanding, and more compassionate than we were last year.
Shana tova u’metuka — A sweet and happy New Year to you all.
Rabbi Joel Simon
Congregation Shir Ami
THE HIGH HOLY Days will soon be upon us — a season permeated with the joys of family, community, and reconnecting with our maker, Almighty God. These are values we hold dear all year round, but as we try to navigate through the grind of daily life, it’s easy to forget them, and we often place them on the back burner. But then come Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, and we can ignore them no longer. Something inside stirs us in a particularly deep and meaningful way, and we begin thinking about the things that really matter, asking ourselves how we are currently scoring in these areas.
It is no secret that synagogues are bursting at the seams precisely three days a year: on the days of the New Year and on the Day of Atonement. Some will point to “Jewish guilt” as the culprit, but my teachers have taught me that on these days our soul is awakened. Even as we don’t consider ourselves to be particularly observant, or even if we altogether question our belief in God, there is something that happens on the core level of every Jew that motivates us to call out to our Creator on this anniversary of creation, and on the Day of Atonement that follows shortly after.
At Young Israel of Lawrenceville, we are here to answer this call by offering traditional, uplifting, and inspiring services on the High Holy Days and all year round.
Rabbi Yitzchak Goldenberg
Young Israel of Lawrenceville