On our trees of life, the spiritual ties that bind, the human penchant for the inner avoidance mechanism called "spiritual bypassing," Yom Kippur as our call to "answer" our souls rather than "afflict" them, taking the inner deep dive in joy.
On losing and re-gaining our felt sense of connection; Judaism's call of community; the U.S. loneliness epidemic; Blue Zones of longevity built on community connectivity; and what the real business of Jewish community is all about.
Shanah tovah! I hope this new year has dawned bright and full of hope for you and your beloveds.
How ironic that the first Torah portion of the new year is nearly Torah's last. How ironic that this Torah portion is the swan song of Moses as he faces his fast impending death.
Ironic – and, with Yom Kippur up next, utterly right.
By Rabbi David Evan Markus
Rosh Hashanah 5784 (2023)
Imagine what our world would be if we extended ourselves just a bit more beyond what most frightens or upsets us. Imagine what our world would be if we each stretched just a bit more into the equality, kindness, gratitude, Godwrestling and stranger love that are the core callings of our ancestral identity. It starts with us. It starts today.
We can choose to let our suffering, jealousy and fear harden us. Or we can let them soften us, and remind us that we know the Other’s heart because we’ve been the Other, too. Empathy is healing for most every felt sense of Otherness, and most especially for our own.
By Rabbi David Evan Markus
Erev Rosh Hashanah 5784 (2023)
R. David joins a national call to smash the stigma about emotional and mental health in the United States.
Hope and renewal are our birthrights. Claim them as yours, with the power they transmit from legacy and from heaven – and let’s talk if your path feels too steep. Claim your birthright and its inspiration to do more than we think we can – nothing too small – to heal ourselves and this world. Our High Holy Day journey starts here.
This weekend's arrival of Rosh Hashanah 5784 interrupts the weekly Torah cycle in favor of the New Year's special Torah reading for P. Vayera in Genesis 21-22. It's about the Israelite (later Jewish) lineage began by dividing from the Arab (later Muslim) lineage, and how relationship with God deepened and was put to the test in its wake.
The story is a fascinating one, full of intrigue and drama – as many beginnings are. It comes every Rosh Hashanah, itself a new beginning when our own relationships with God are deepened and put to the test.
Welcome to the Season of Meaning as we approach Rosh Hashanah 5784.
This Rabbi’s Desk column for September is about this year’s High Holy Day journey – my overall philosophy, what to expect, what’ll be similar to past years at Shir Ami, what’ll be different and why. This column also includes links to two new melodies that we'll use, and a few suggestions for making the most of our journey together.
From my heart to yours, I send blessings for a 5784 of sweet goodness for each of you and your loved ones, and our beloved Congregation Shir Ami. Here we go!
A Quick Summary
Many things about the High Holy Days at Shir Ami will be very similar to last year. The prayerbook, musical director and vocal quartet, Torah readers, Kol Nidre cellist, Yizkor experience and many tunes will be the same. The confluence of Erev Rosh Hashanah and Shabbat require some liturgical changes on both Erev Rosh Hashanah and Rosh Hashanah's first morning, and Shir Ami will experiment with a Rosh Hashanah Day 2 to enfold rituals omitted the prior day due to Shabbat.
This year will feature two new tunes (Return Again and an Ahavat Olam setting) that the community is invited to hear in advance. We'll use them on Selikhot evening (Sept. 9), when we'll co-write part of our Yom Kippur liturgy together. This year also will make some changes to Unetaneh Tokef and Yom Kippur afternoon to freshen those offerings in close coordination with the community's leadership.
Because the prayerbook omits many transliterations and translations, this year everything we do will be on user-friendly slides in addition to the prayerbook itself. This addition also will help bring deeper meaning to what we do together.
Please read below for details, more information and a few invitations and requests from me.
This week's full moon of Elul launches our two-week countdown to Rosh Hashanah. When the waning moon runs out of reflected light, the outgoing year will run out of time.
On that Erev Rosh Hashanah evening, Jews worldwide will gather together to usher in the new year. Much as our spiritual ancestors did for centuries before us, we'll uplift new hopes for ourselves, each other and the world – and we'll proclaim that we're in it together. While parts of the High Holy Day journey are about each of us individually, much that we'll do and aspire to become will depend vitally on being and acting together.
"Together," it turns out, is one of Judaism's superpowers. The Jewish key to both ancestral continuity and collective transformation is how the very act of gathering helps reshape us. Community is the catalyst – and scientists have come a long way in figuring out why.
The Jewish month of Elul has begun. Days are shortening noticeably. Emails about the High Holy Days are flying. Ritually, daily shofar blasts pierce protective layers and call us to renewed attention. The season of teshuvah is here.
What is teshuvah? English-language equivalents include "return" to "repent." This impulse asks us to "return" to our highest selves and best spiritual lives. We do so physically in community (it's "back to shul" time), and figuratively by introspection, "repenting" for "sins" (I prefer Hebrew's חטא / het – an archery term for "missed marks"), and doing the sometimes difficult work of repairing and forgiving.
This week's Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, presses us to back these words with action that shows up in the world – because hanging in the balance is whether we're really here at all. (Keep reading for bonus content for animal lovers.)
By Rabbi David Evan Markus
August once brought the sure end of summer. In Simon & Garfunkel's "April Come She Will" (1962), August was the month that "Die she must / The autumn winds blow, chilly and cold." For area families with school-aged children and grandchildren, August still brings vacations winding down, returns from camp and "back to school" sales.
But in our climate-change world, August is still full-throttle summer. And this year, most of August 2023 comes before the Serious Matters of the High Holy Days for most of us. Jewishly speaking, it's high summer.
Yet, my friends, slow change is in the air.