The following are responses to an invitation from New Jersey Jewish News to leaders of area congregations to share their High Holy Day messages.
AS WE GET closer to the baseball playoffs, fans start to dream of the drama to come. Their team is down to the last at-bat; their hero strides to the plate and, in spectacular fashion, hits a home run to end the game and win the pennant — maybe even the World Series.
The “walk-off home run” is possibly the most exciting end to a baseball game, but do you know the origin of the term? In fact, “walk-off” was coined — by pitcher Dennis Eckersley — with a negative connotation: The pitcher walks off the field with his head down in shame, having lost the game almost singlehandedly.
Somehow the walk-off has been transformed into a positive term, focused on the batter’s success, not the pitcher’s failure. If only we could make this kind of transformation in our lives. This has been a dark summer of pessimistic news for the Jewish people, full of crisis and conflict. We are in desperate need of positive change. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur remind us of the possibility of teshuva, transformation. There is hope we can do better, that things will improve as long as we embrace the Jewish values of peace, reconciliation, and unity.
The High Holy Days say to us we can turn a negative into a positive; we just need a new perspective. This happy hope is expressed in the piyyut (liturgical poem) Mareh Kohen, traditionally recited during the service of the high priest on Yom Kippur. After recalling the terrible sins of the people and as the high priest leaves the Holy of Holies having atoned for the entire nation, the people observe that his appearance is “like the brightness of the vaulted canopy of heaven.”
May your end to this season of transformation be a walk-off piece as dramatic, and joyous, as that of the ancient high priest.
Rabbi Benjamin J. Adler
Adath Israel Congregation, Lawrenceville
THE HIGH HOLY Days — 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 if 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, relevant, and inspiring services on the High Holy Days and all year round. Visit yiol.com or call 609-883-8833 for details.
Rabbi Yitzchak Goldenberg
Young Israel of Lawrenceville
THE HIGHLIGHT OF the Rosh Hashana service is the sounding of the shofar. I always love to watch the children on Rosh Hashana as they approach the bima and listen attentively to the sounding of the shofar. They are so intrigued by it. Adults also stand at attention and awe as they listen to the piercing sounds of the shofar. What is it about the shofar that causes us to react in this way?
The Rambam — Maimonides — teaches that the message of the shofar is “Awake, O you sleepers, awake from your sleep! O you slumberers, awake from your slumber!”
The shofar is a wake-up call to each of us to look at our lives and see where we have come from, where we are now, and where we hope to go in the future. The shofar gives us so much to think about as we contemplate our lives. As we hear the sounds of the shofar, a prayer without words, our minds race with the thought of what our hopes and dreams are for ourselves and our families. When we watch the children’s reaction to hearing the shofar blasts we know that they, too, are affected by the blasts in their own way. The shofar implores us that now is the time to do teshuva — to repent, to change, and to work to improve our lives religiously, spiritually, and personally in our interactions with our family and friends.
Shana tova to you and your family!
Rabbi Jay M. Kornsgold
Beth El Synagogue, East Windsor
CONGREGATION BETH CHAIM of Princeton Junction and I wish you and your family a happy and healthy holiday season. As we enter a new year, let us pray for renewal and re-JEW-venation. Let us all join in supporting our sisters and brothers in the State of Israel in this time of their need, and our people all over the world.
May we all be blessed with peace in this coming year, 13,500,005,775 years since the Almighty made the Big Bang.
Shalom — Am Yisrael chai!
Rabbi Eric B. Wisnia
Congregation Beth Chaim, Princeton Junction