Yom Kippur Greetings for Beginners

Image: Rabbi Sharon Sobel blows a large shofar. She wears a colorful tallit.

The High Holy Days have one good all purpose blessing that actually keeps working through the end of the cycle, at the end of Sukkot. We can say, “Shana tova!” [Good year!] to which “Shana tova!” is a perfectly acceptable reply.

But if you are spending any time, even online, with other Jews, you may hear some other greetings. Here are some of the choices:

G’mar tov! — (g’MAHR TOHV) — A good finish

G’mar chatimah tovah! — (g’MAHR khah-tee-MAH tow-VAH) — A good final sealing

Tzom kasher! — (zohm ka-SHAYR) — Have a proper fast

Tzom kal! — (zohm KAHL) — Have an easy fast

The good news is that all of those are answered just as they are asked. Just say them back, and it’s all good.

There are also some all-purpose greetings you may hear. They are a bit less common on Yom Kippur, given its sober tone.

Chag sameach! — (khag sa-MAY-akh) — Happy holy day!

Goot yuntiff — (goot YUN-tif) — Yiddish — Good Holy Day.

Join me for Yom Kippur?

Image: Jewish Gateways Logo for High Holidays 2021. Colorful abstract.

I will officiate at online Yom Kippur services this year at Jewish Gateways. If you still need somewhere to attend, we would be glad to have you. For information, and to register, visit their High Holidays webpage. You must be registered to attend.

The schedule for Yom Kippur Services, all times Pacific:

Wednesday, September 15, 7:00-9:00pm, Erev Yom Kippur

Thursday, September 16, Yom Kippur Day                        

  • 9:00-9:45am: Yom Kippur Family Service for children under 9 and their families
  • 10:30am-12:30pm: Yom Kippur Morning Service
  • 1:00pm: Questions and Open Discussion with Jewish Gateways community members
  • 6:00-7:30pm: Yom Kippur Afternoon Services
    • 6:00-6:30pm: Healing Service
    • 6:30-7:00pm: Yizkor • Memorial Service
    • 7:00-7:30pm: Ne’ilah • Closing Service

G’mar chatimah tovah! (May you be sealed for goodness.)

Join Me for the High Holy Days?

Image: Brightly colored logo for Jewish Gateways‘ High Holidays 2021 Logo. A pomegranate is cupped in a blue arc like a hand. A rainbow surrounds.

L’shana tova! Happy New Year! The Jewish New Year of 5782 begins at sundown on Monday night, September 6, and continues until sundown September 7.

Normally I’m a “Jew in the Pew” for High Holy Days, but this year I am pinch-hitting for Rabbi Bridget Wynne, who is recovering from an accident last week. If you’d like to join me for online services with Jewish Gateways, the registration and information for that is available on their website.

For more information about the High Holy Days I recommend reading my article High Holy Days for Beginners, 2020. The dates have changed but the information is the same.

Other ways you may hear Jews refer to these days, all correct:

  • High Holidays
  • Days of Awe
  • Yamim Noraim (Hebrew) (ya-MEEM no-rah-EEM)
  • Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (ROSH ha-sha-NAH and YOM kee-POOR)
  • “High Hols” (very informal)
  • HHD’s (in tweets and other shorthand media)

Whatever you call them, I wish you a Good and Sweet New Year. May it bring you health, healing, light, and love.

L‘shana tova! Happy New Year!

FREE Passover classes at HaMaqom | The Place!

HaMaqom | The Place in Berkeley, CA is offering free online Passover classes and events over the coming month. Are you ready to learn? Ready to get ready? Worried about how you’re going to get into the mood for Passover this year? Interested in learning some new and interesting possibilities for enjoying the holiday? Help is one the way!

All events are free of charge, but you need to register in order to attend. To register for each event, use this link.

Passover 101 (Tuesday, March 9, 2021, 7-7:30 pm Pacific Time.

Passover, also known as Pesach or Chag HaAviv, celebrates the Israelites Exodus from Egypt and includes themes of liberation, redemption, and renewal. Join us to learn more about this holiday and its traditions in this interactive session with Rabbi Ruth Adar.

Bsisa 101: Celebrating the New Jewish month of Nissan with Libyan and Tunisian Jews (Tuesday March 16 7-7:30pm Pacific Time

The new Jewish month of Nissan brings with it themes of renewal and hope for prosperity and health, as Passover is just around the corner. Join Asher Grinner and Tamar Zaken as they share the home-based tradition of Bsisa, where family members gather to bless and be blessed, celebrating the season of renewal marked by Rosh Hodesh Nissan.

Come to the Seder Table (Thursday, March 18 7-8pm Pacific Time

At HaMaqom, we celebrate and lift up the diversity of our Jewish community and practice. Passover is the perfect time of year to showcase the ways different families celebrate this holiday of liberation and new beginnings. This event will feature 6 family seder traditions from HaMaqom and One Table community members and staff. Get ready for Passover with us!

Community Cafe: Stories of Liberation, Deliverance, Revelation, and Rebellion (Tuesday, March 23 5:30-6:45pm Pacific Time)

Stories connect us and add meaning and depth to our lives. Come to HaMaqom’s community cafe event, where you will hear inspiring, Passover-themed storytelling this Spring. This semester, HaMaqom’s Community Cafe participants workshopped true stories from their lives about liberation, resilience and other Passover themes.  Join us to hear these moving stories as our participants perform them for a live zoom audience.  

Mimouna 101: Moroccan Post Passover Celebration (Sunday April 4, 7-7:30pm Pacific Time)

Mimouna, a celebration that marks the end of Passover, is celebrated in Moroccan and North African Jewish communities. Mimouna includes themes of renewal, joy, coexistence, and inviting in neighbors. Join Ziva Trau as she shares her family Mimouna traditions, featuring special foods, music, and other rituals.

Passover @ The Place is generously sponsored by The Douglass-Pearlmutter Family, the Kabat Family, and Fred Isaac & Robin Reiner.

HaMaqom’s commitment to keeping our learning opportunities affordable and inclusive is a part of who we are and is only possible because of the generous support we receive from our wonderful community.

Spread the Light: Hanukkah 2020

Image: A lit chanukiah (esbeitz / Pixabay)

This Hanukkah is a special one: we’ve all been stuck with the horrors of pandemic for SO long that the pleasures of this little holiday are especially sweet. The pleasures add up to two things, sweetness and light. I’d like to offer you one thing to DO and one to NOT DO to increase the joy of this week.

To DO: Join me for the “Eight Days of Light & Learning” with HaMakom | The Place. HaMakom (formerly Lehrhaus Judaica) is where I grew up as a Jew: I took Intro there, I learned Hebrew there, and now I teach there. For Hanukkah we are offering a short program each night at 7pm (Pacific) with a little bit of learning, a little bit of light, and a little bit of silly happiness. It’s free to all, and I hope you will join us. All you have to do is follow the link above and register to get the Zoom link. (P.S. – I am teaching on Sunday night.)

To NOT DO: The darkness and confusion of conspiracy theories has been a plague upon us during the election and the coronavirus crisis. Please do your part by refusing to pass on far-out theories, even as something to laugh about. If something seems intriguing, check it out with Snopes.com or some other fact-checking site. Be skeptical, especially if the “news” excites you: that’s how these things spread.

Chag Urim Sameach! Happy Feast of Lights!

This time next year, we will hug our cousins and gather to celebrate. This year, we will gather online. Chag Hannukah sameach!

Thoughts for the 1st Night

Image: Menorah with two candles lit, on the first night. (Photo: NashvilleScene.com)

I love the first night of Chanukah. I love the bravery of the two little lights, the shamash (“helper”) candle and the 1st candle. The dark is so very dark, and those little lights shine brightly against it.

The world has felt like a dark night for so long. Whatever your political persuasion, surely the state of American democracy is distressing. The fact that we cannot even agree on the facts is terrifying. A frightening virus has completely disrupted our lives for nine months, and while a vaccine has been developed (a miracle in itself) the logistics of a just distribution of that vaccine is a daunting prospect. Over 290,000 lie dead from coronavirus in the United States.

Tonight I’m going to take comfort in two little candles. One lights, the other is lit. We never have one without the other. There is never a lone candle in the dark.

In some ways, the shamash is the “extra” candle. It isn’t counted, doesn’t get credit for its light. But it stands for all the helpers out there in the world, who spread the light to others, often without credit for what they do. This year it stands for the healthcare workers, the journalists, the delivery people, the “essential workers” who do their work in danger and often for low pay.

I will remind myself that none of us is ever a lone candle in the dark. There are always other lights, and I will focus my eyes on them as I read the news and make my way through social media.  Fred Rogers suggested that the best way to navigate a scary world is to “Look for the helpers.” I’m going to look for the people who are spreading the light.

Chag urim sameach – Happy holiday of lights!

Kislev Tov 5781!

Image: Chanukah gelt on a dark brown table. (lisa-skvo / shutterstock)

It’s Rosh Chodesh Kislev! Rosh Chodesh means “first of the month.” Look at the sky and you will see almost no moon at all – the New Moon is the signal for the new month. This year, if the sky is clear, you may also see the Leonid meteor shower, with the sky so nice and dark.

The most famous thing about Kislev is that on the 25th of the month, we will begin the celebration of Chanukah. (On 12/10/2020, this year.)

The name “Kislev” (KEES-lev) comes from the Akkadian word kislimu, which means “thickened.” Since it’s a month in which rains come to the Middle East, perhaps it’s a reference to the mud that come with heavy rain. The Akkadians were an early civilization in Mesopotamia, and much of the modern-day Jewish Calendar comes from Mesopotamia.

Why Mesopotamia? Because that’s where our ancestors were exiled after the destruction of Solomon’s Temple in 586 BCE. There was an earlier calendar, with its New Year in the month of Nisan in the springtime; remnants of that calendar may still be found in the Torah, which speaks of the month in which Passover falls as “the first month.”

So Rosh Chodesh Tov, or Kislev Tov, whichever you prefer. I hope you have a joyful month.

Chodesh Tov! It’s Cheshvan.

Image: A large ripe pumpkin is surrounded by dying vines. (wagrati_photo / Pixabay)

Chodesh Tov!  [Happy (new) month!]

That’s the traditional greeting for every new month. The moon is key to the Jewish calendar, and every new moon is a new month, a Rosh Chodesh.

The month of Cheshvan is the quietest month of the Jewish year – no holidays, no fasts, just quiet. The only exception is the Ethiopian Jewish holiday of Sigd, which is celebrated in Israel on the 29th of CheshvanSigd falls on the 50th day after Yom Kippur (just as Shavuot is 50 days after the first night of Passover) and in Ethiopian Jewish tradition, it is the day to celebrate God revealing Godself to Moses. For more about Sigd, there is an excellent article in the Times of Israel.

The name Cheshvan is short for Marcheshvan, the older name for the month, which comes from Waraḫsamnu, the Akkadian (Mesopotamian) name meaning “eighth month.” (In Mesopotamia, the month we call Nisan is the first month of the year, which is how the months were counted in Biblical times, too.)

At some point in the past someone noticed that Mar is Hebrew for “bitter,” and the tradition arose that Marcheshvan was “Bitter Cheshvan.” Indeed, there are bitter dates in the month:

12 Cheshvan – Assassination of PM Yitzhak Rabin (1995)

16 Cheshvan – Kristallnacht (1938)

This year the United States will hold a national election on the 17th of Cheshvan, Nov. 3, 2020.

May this Cheshvan bring peace and clarity to us on many levels.

Sukkot Thoughts for 2020

Image: An Israeli street, with sukkot. (Shutterstock image; all rights reserved.)

It’s Sukkot, and on the rare occasions that I leave my house, Oakland looks like Israel this week.

As people lose their housing, the tent camps that already existed are growing. In Israel, the fact that there are sukkot everywhere would not be a surprise – of course there are sukkot everywhere! — but in the secular Bay Area, it is no holiday.

In a normal year, we use the sukkah to remind ourselves of the fragility of our daily lives. In 2020, we need the sukkah to remind us that the fragility we are currently experiencing is temporary.

In 2020, we need the sukkah to remind us that these should be temporary structures, not a permanent solution to anything.

In 2020, we need the table in the sukkah to remind us that the people in those temporary dwellings are hungry. We need to be reminded that while we may find the sight of the stars through the shakh (palm covered roof) quaint and lovely, there are people who see any hole in the roof of their shelter as a doorway for rain, cold, and illness.

In 2020, a study by Feeding America, a nonprofit dedicated to ending food insecurity, predicts that local food insecurity may affect 1 in 3 adults this winter and 1 in 2 children. The food banks literally do not know how they will meet the demand, especially with federal sources of food assistance drying up.

What can we do?

  1. Ask for help if you need it. Many people who were secure last year are insecure this year. Covid-19 and federal policy have destroyed jobs and left many people in a terrible spot. If you are one of them, it may be very difficult to say to the people who’ve always thought of you as a helper, not a helpee. Just remember, this year is different in ways we have never seen before. If you are in trouble, it is OK to reach out and ask for help. Remember, when we ask for help, we are giving someone else an opportunity to do a mitzvah.
  2. We can support our local food banks. Government aid takes time to mobilize, but the charities are already up and running. They know their stuff. Find the food bank nearest you, or near some community you love, and give them whatever you can.
  3. We can support our local food banks with volunteer labor. Many of the volunteers that have staffed food banks in the past are elders who cannot continue that work because they are at high risk for Covid-19.
  4. We can support organizations that help people who don’t have homes. There are a number of good lists online, both local and national. For instance, the SF Chronicle publishes the SF Homeless Project, listing local programs. Your local Jewish Family & Community Services organization has such programs which serve both Jews and non-Jews. You can also check with Google to get an idea of local organizations.
  5. We can support organizations that serve victims of domestic violence, which has been on the rise. Locally, the organization Shalom Bayit (“Peace of the Home”) continues to do great work with very little money. Use Google to find local organizations you can support with donations or volunteerism.

No money to donate? Or, like me, are you unable to get out and volunteer?

  1. Educate yourself on local issues. What’s going on in your town? Who is helping, what is making matters worse? What bills are in the state pipeline that address these issues? What’s on your ballot that might make a difference?
  2. Write letters to local elected officials (think “mayor, city council, state representatives”) insisting that the care of the hungry and homeless is important to you. Write letters to the editor of your local paper (there’s one I need to do!)
  3. Make your contacts personal. That’s what the staffers of politicians tell us: signing a big petition may be satisfying, but often it makes little impression. Write to YOUR state rep, to YOUR mayor, to YOUR city council person, and explain that they need to do something or they won’t get YOUR vote next time.
  4. Reject NIMBYism. Building lower-cost housing is an absolute necessity, but often after a developer is persuaded to include it in their plans, the neighbors have a fit. Sure, insist on sufficient planning regarding parking and transit! Insist that things be done properly! But don’t be the person who starts talking about how “their kind” aren’t wanted in your neighborhood, and call it out when you hear it.
  5. Pray. If there are solutions or people that scare you, try praying about them before you utterly reject them. Ask God’s help in being part of the solution; ask God’s mercy on those who are suffering.
  6. And I repeat: Ask for help if you need it. Remember, this year is different in ways we have never seen before. If you are in trouble, it is OK to reach out and ask for help. When we ask for help, we are giving someone else an opportunity to do a mitzvah. They may need the mitzvah every bit as badly as we need the help. It is OK to ask.

I’ve run on long enough; these are my Sukkot thoughts today. I wish all my readers safe shelter from the scary world, and blessings in all that you do.

High Holy Days for Beginners, 2020

Image: Rabbi Sharon L. Sobel of Temple Beth Am in Framingham, MA blows the shofar. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Sobel.

The High Holy Days are coming!

Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year, begins at sundown on September 18, 2020. It will begin the Jewish Year 5781. Here are some basic facts to know about the holiday season:

Happy Jewish New Year!

Rosh HaShanah is the Jewish New Year. Observant Jews will go to synagogue that day, and will do no work. Many other Jews may take the day off for reflection and celebration. The mitzvah for the day of Rosh HaShanah is to hear the sound of the shofar [ram’s horn.] The basic greeting for the New Year is “Shanah Tovah” [literally, “Good Year!”] The proper reply is also “Shanah Tovah.” For other greetings, see A Guide to High Holy Day Greetings.

First, Prepare!

Preparation for the High Holy Day Season began at sundown on Aug 20 with Rosh Chodesh Elul. Jews worldwide take the month of Elul to examine their lives in the light of Torah, looking for things about ourselves that need to change. For more about preparation, look at Books to Prepare for the High Holy Days and Teshuvah 101.

Days of Awe

Rosh HaShanah begins a very serious time in the Jewish year called the Days of Awe. Unlike the secular New Year, which is mostly a time for celebration, the Days of Awe are an annual period for reflection and for mending relationships and behavior. Synagogue services use solemn music and urge Jews, individually and collectively, to mend what is broken in their lives, and to apologize for misdeeds.

Teshuvah: Sin & Repentance

The Jewish understanding of sin is that all human beings fall short of their best selves from time to time. When we do wrong, even accidentally, we are required to acknowledge what we have done, take responsibility for it, and take steps to assure it will not happen again. This process is called teshuvah [literally, “turning.”] Teshuvah 101 explains this concept in more detail – it isn’t about beating ourselves up, it’s about change for the better.

Yom Kippur

The Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, is the culmination of the process of teshuvah. Observant Jews fast for 24 hours and spend the day in synagogue, praying and reflecting on their lives. Other Jews may take the day off for reflection as well. Yom Kippur is a day for atonement for sins against God and/or Jewish law; it only atones for sins against God. We atone for sins against other human beings through the process of teshuvah (taking responsibility, apologizing, and taking steps to prevent a recurrence.) If you have a health problem that requires regulation of food and/or liquids, do not fast – there are other ways to observe.

Get the Most out of Your High Holy Days

To get the most out of the High Holy Days, observe the month of preparation that leads up to them. Attend services at a local synagogue (guests are welcome at regular services). Ask yourself “What about my life and behavior needs to change?” and make those changes. Mend relationships that can be mended, and do your part even in those relationships that cannot be mended at this time. Consider reading a book about the High Holy Days, or keeping a journal. Like everything else in life, the more you put into this experience, the more you will get out of it.

There is much more to know about the High Holy Days; this is just a beginning. If you are curious about Judaism, this is a great time of year to look for classes and services online.

This High Holy Day cycle of 2020 will be like no other. Synagogues are streaming services, and most services will be streamlined a bit. If you want to attend, check the synagogue website for information.

L’Shanah Tovah: I wish you a fruitful beginning to the New Year of 5780!Advertisements