Preparing for the High Holy Days and year ahead

Liberal Judaism President Rabbi Dr Andrew Goldstein
September 2018

Moses Ben Abraham of Premsla wrote: “The wise prepare themselves with teshuvah, prayer and charity during the month of Elul”.

I started thinking about the coming High Holy Days two weeks earlier than usual, in the middle of Av, to meet the deadlines for LJ Today – Liberal Judaism’s bimonthly magazine.

It was strange to be thinking of our autumn festivals in the middle of summer (and what a hot summer it has been) but that’s how quickly things come around and years go by. Indeed, this will be the fifteenth year since we started using Machzor Ruach Chadashah.

Perhaps these opening thoughts tell us to slow down a moment and do what Rosh Hashanah has long demanded of us: to spend time looking back before moving into the New Year.

The year 5778 has been quite a turbulent and often confusing one, no more so than on the political front in the UK, Israel, USA and parts of Europe.

Old certainties seem to be disappearing and we have seen a resurgence of antisemitism. There have been a number of significant anniversaries and weddings to celebrate, though often the joy has been countered by bad news and the new phenomenon of ‘fake news’.

As Jews we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration and the 70th of the establishment of the State of Israel. Yet new terrorist threats against Israel give us cause for concern and its internal politics make us, as Progressive Jews, more than uneasy.

Within our own Liberal movement we had the joy of more than 300 delegates spending a highly successful Biennial Weekend together, validating our belief in the authenticity of our form of Progressive Judaism. We felt and shared the encouragement that comes out of community and surely this should be the experience we get from our congregations gathering on the High Holy Days and festivals.

Way back in the late 1960s, the late Rabbi Hugo Gryn taught me a trick for High Holy Day sermons – to see if there is any hint in the word formed by the Hebrew year.

For 5779, the only hint I can find in my dictionary is a link to shatnez, that strange law in the Torah forbidding the mixture in clothes of linen and wool. Hardly relevant to Liberal Jews and yet maybe a reminder that life itself is so often made up of a mix of often opposing emotions, situations and experiences.

How we deal with bad and good news is a test of our maturity and sanity and happiness. Our tradition teaches us that it is within the family and community that we find strength to cope in a sometimes confusing and conflicting world.

May the New Year be a good year for your community, your family and friends. And may it bring a sense of peace to Israel and the world.
Click here to read more High Holy Day thought pieces and sermons from our rabbis

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