The Jewish community is again getting ready for High Holy Days.
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, starting next Friday evening, Sept. 18. These are considered some of the most important Holy Days in the Jewish calendar.
The process of preparing for the High Holy Days begins with the month of Elul, which is the last month of the Jewish calendar year. According to Jewish tradition, during the month of Elul, Moses spent time on Mount Sinai preparing the second set of Tablets after the incident of the Golden Calf. He went up to Mount Sinai on the first day of Elul, and did not return until the end of the 10th day of Tishri, at the conclusion of Yom Kippur.
For many observant Jews, from the second day of Elul through the 28th day of Elul, the Shofar is sounded at the end of every weekday morning service. Also many people will visit cemeteries during this time.
We are supposed to think about our own mortality, and about our obligation to make our remaining lives worthwhile and to make our relationships better in the time we have left. And we need to think about working to forgive and to ask for forgiveness in the coming days.
Toward the end of Elul, one week before Rosh Hashanah, we begin the period of “Selichot.” Actually this year, Selichot begins on Sept. 11 since Rosh Hashanah starts on Sept. 18.
The term “Selichot,” which is plural for “selicha,” refers to penitential prayers, stating sorrow and a desire for forgiveness. These prayers are recited by Jews starting immediately after midnight on the Saturday before Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur.
A central part of the Selichot prayers is the continued repetition of the Thirteen Attributes of God, which according to Jewish tradition, were revealed to Moses after the incident of the Golden Calf. This story is found in Exodus 34:6-7. These attributes are traditionally recited in Hebrew, and you might not see how there are 13. But here is the translation:
1. Ha-Shem (unpronounceable Name of God)
2. Ha-Shem (unpronounceable Name of God)
3. El (God)
4. Rachoom (Merciful)
5. Ve Hanoon (Gracious)
6. Erek a-payim (long-suffering)
7. Ve rav hesed (abundant in goodness)
8. Ve-emet (and truth)
9. Notzer hesed la-lafim (keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation)
10. No-say avon (forgiving iniquity)
11. Va-fe-sha (and transgression)
12. Ve-chata (and sin)
13. Ve-nakay (and who cleanses)
Why are the first three of the Thirteen Attributes the Names of God? According to the Talmud, the different names of God refer to different attributes. God shows mercy, both before one sins and after one sins, but God is also the ruler of the universe.
This is a very unusual year for High Holy Days, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many congregations and houses of worship, many of the Jewish congregations in the area are not having in-person services for the High Holy Days, due to fear of spreading the virus.
Yet, the High Holy Day services are the most well-attended services in each year. And we all know that we should not be crowding lots of people indoors for worship in the time of a pandemic.
So many synagogues and congregations are planning Zoom services. Congregation Beth Tikvah is working with other West Shore Jewish congregations, including Temple Beth Shalom (Mechanicsburg) and Sons of Israel (Chambersburg), as well as small congregations in Hanover and Adams County, to ensure all our members have access to Zoom or livestream services for these most important days in our year.
We are blessed to have these great neighbors, and through all this planning, we have developed new friendships. We look forward to joining our new friends this year at services, and look forward to future collaborations with the West Shore Jewish communities.
Emily Burt-Hedrick is the President of the Congregation Beth Tikvah.
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