The 2019 High Holy Days arrive on Sept 29 at Sundown – What’s Your Plan?

Image: A shofar, the ram’s horn blown on Rosh HaShanah. (Wikimedia)

Rosh Hashanah this year (2019) begins at sundown on September 29. That may sound like a long way off, but it’s closer than you think.

What are your plans for the High Holy Days (HHDs) this year? Are you planning on going to synagogue for services? Planning to make it a quiet time for reflection? Planning to ignore them entirely?

If the third possibility is your plan, I invite you to reconsider. The High Holy Days can be fulfilling and renewing, but only if you decide what you want out of them and then invest yourself in them.

If you are planning on going to services: If you are a member of a synagogue, that one is simple – go to shul. If you aren’t a member, then it’s trickier, and you definitely need to start thinking now. In most metropolitan areas, there are two options: free services and services requiring tickets. Call around, find out what’s available. More and more Jewish groups are offering free HHDs services, but not all congregations can afford to do so. If tickets make you angry, don’t go to those places.

Another option: streaming services!: Many synagogues now stream their services, including High Holy Day services. This too may involve some sleuthing: check out the websites of synagogues in your time zone, or maybe that of your childhood synagogue. (Pro tip: If you like the experience and want them to continue doing it, consider sending them a donation with a letter thanking them for the streamed service.)

If you are planning on a do-it-yourself HHDs experience: Decide what you want to accomplish. Then look for the resources you need. There are some wonderful books about the HHDs. I have a list of them in the post titled Books to Help Us Prepare for the High Holy Days. Some are books designed for preparation, and some are machzorim (HHDs prayer books.) Sometimes a quiet place to sit and something good to read is exactly what we need.

If you are not sure what you want, learn about the High Holy Days themselves. You can start with the article High Holy Days for Beginners, 5780/2019 edition. They can be a hugely fulfilling process of taking stock and putting one’s house in order. They can be an opportunity to connect with other Jews who are seeking community and wholeness/holiness. If past experiences of the HHDs were more about new clothes or stuffy synagogues, the one who can change that is you. Learn, then put your learning to use in making the experience you want.

Whatever you do, remember that the High Holy Days are coming. Anticipation is part of the process!

I wish you a good year, a year of sweetness and fulfillment, in the coming year of 5780!

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High Holy Days for Beginners, 5780/2019 edition

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 29, 2019. It will begin the Jewish Year 5780. 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 will begin at sundown on August 31 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.

Tickets for Prayer?

Very important: Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are the days of the year when the greatest number of Jews attend synagogue. Because of the high attendance, some synagogues do not have seats for visitors for their main services. If they have a few extra seats, they sell tickets for those seats to offset the extra expense of the holiday (members pay their share via membership dues.) Note that synagogues make arrangements for reduced rates for membership for those who wish to participate in synagogue life but who cannot afford full dues. Consider joining a synagogue – they offer much more than High Holy Day services.

There are several options for attending High Holy Day services for low or no cost. A growing number of synagogues offer free High Holy Day services.  Some synagogues offer free High Holy Day tickets for college students or members of the military. If you are in a city in the USA, call the Jewish Federation or other local Jewish agency for information about locations for free or low-cost services. Many non-orthodox synagogues stream services on the Internet, too.

Another Option: Even synagogues that have tickets for the main services also have other services for which there is no charge and usually smaller crowds. Selichot services (the evening of September 21, 2019) usually feature the music and prayers of the High Holy Days.

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 contact a synagogue about adult education classes, since many classes in synagogues start immediately after the holidays.

In October I shall offer an online class, Introduction to the Jewish Experience, through HaMakom: The Place (formerly Lehrhaus Judaica.) The class meets on Sundays but is also available via recordings. I will post information about registration as soon as the new catalog is up.

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

Rosh Chodesh Av, 2019

Image: The Western Wall, or Kotel.

Av (ahv) is the eleventh month of the Hebrew year. It began at sundown last night, August 1, 2019. We call the first day of a new month Rosh Chodesh, meaning “the head of the month.”

Av is often mentioned as the “unluckiest” or “saddest” month of the year, based on a mention in the Talmud in Taanit 19a: “When we enter Av, our joy is diminished.”

Av has a number of sad anniversaries in it. Foremost of those is the 9th of Av, Tisha B’Av, on which we remember the destruction of both the first and second Temples, as well as the expulsion from Spain in 1492. These were the greatest disasters in Jewish history before the 20th century.

Av is also a hot, dry time in the Land of Israel, when water is even more scarce than usual and when the sun beats down even in relatively cooler places like Jerusalem and Sefat.

What are your associations for this season? How might they fit into the Jewish understanding of this time of year?

What are The Three Weeks?

Image: An imprint of a foot in the sand, just before the surf obliterates it. (Pixabay)

Believe it or not, we are at the barest beginning of a cycle that will bring us to the High Holy Days in the fall.

Sunday marked the beginning of the build-up to the grimmest day in the Jewish calendar: Tisha B’Av. For the next three weeks, the Haftarah (prophetic) readings will warn us that God is angry with Israel, that it is time to repent our selfish ways.

What to do with these? We can go to shul, read or listen to the Haftarah readings, and let them open our hearts. If the Saturday morning services are difficult for you to access, read the readings:

  1. Jeremiah 1:1 – 2:3
  2. Haftarah for Ashkenazim: Jeremiah 2:4 – 28; 3:4 Haftarah for Sephardim: Jeremiah 2:4 – 28; 4:1 – 4:2
  3. Isaiah 1:1-27

How can we make use of these readings to enrich our spiritual lives?

1. We can hear them in the context of the synagogue service -or-

2. We can read and ponder them: “What do the prophets’ words have to do with me?”

3. We can open our hearts to repentance and change.

Traditionally this was a season of sadness, preparing to re-experience or remember the trauma of Tisha B’Av, the destruction of the Temple.

Besides that, it is a reminder that our tradition is to remember and learn from past mistakes. It is another “Never again” – this time not about the Holocaust but about the terrible, terrible damage we do ourselves and others when we indulge in sinat chinam, baseless hatred.

So I will not say “Enjoy” – but I will wish you fruitful reflection and fruitful prayers during this solemn time.

“When are the High Holy Days?” and Other Pressing Questions

Image: Large, lighted letters that spell “Coming Soon” in caps. (By 3D Animation Production Company / Pixabay)

We’re nearing the home stretch of the Jewish year. Every time someone wants to schedule things a couple of months out, I have to check my calendar: “Wait, does that conflict with the High Holy Days?”

I offer you a mini calendar of the coming attractions, with the year 5779 winding down to a close. Links will take you to an explanation of each holy day, fast, or observance:

And then it will be time for the High Holy Days and a New Year 5780:

Shavout is HERE! Shavuot Sameach!

On Saturday night, June 8, 2019, Coffee Shop Rabbi is sponsoring an ONLINE celebration of Tikkun Leil Shavuot, the late-night/all-night study session to celebrate the Giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai.

This FREE event will take place via Zoom software – all you will have to do is click on the link I will post on this blog Saturday afternoon, and you can attend via your home computer or your smartphone. The schedule of teachers from 7-11pm Pacific Daylight Time:

7-7:55 pm – Rabbi Deborah GoldmannCongregation Shaareth Israel, Lubbock TX. “Who Was Standing at Sinai?”

8-8:55pm – Student Rabbi Meir Bargeron, MSW, MAHL, Hebrew Union College Los Angeles, “Doing Unto Others: Compassion in Judaism.”

9-9:55pm – Jehon Grist, Ph.D., Lehrhaus Judaica, “The Divine Feminine in the Biblical World.”

10-10:55pm – Rabbi Ruth Adar, Coffee Shop Rabbi, “Stories of Springtime: Visions of Jewish Life in the Spring Holiday Cycle.

The event is free. You need not speak a word of Hebrew. You don’t even need to be Jewish! You can log in from anywhere and celebrate Torah with three wonderful teachers and myself.

Please share this link with anyone who might enjoy it: lovers of Torah, Jews who cannot attend a local event, people curious about Judaism. The link to the Zoom event will be posted here by 6:30pm Saturday evening.


Tikkun Leil Shavuot, 5779 (2019): An Online Event!

Image: Logo, Tikkun Leil Shavuot, on a background of mountains, with a flame.

Tikkun Leil Shavuot is one of the ways we celebrate the festival of Shavuot. It is an all-night or late night Torah study session on Erev Shavuot, in honor of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.

The holiday this year begins on Saturday, June 8, at sundown.

This year Coffee Shop Rabbi will host an online Tikkun Leil Shavuot from 7:00 until 11:00pm Pacific Daylight Time on June 8. If you have access to local study, I encourage you to take advantage of it – there’s nothing like gathering for study with your community. But if you are, like me, unable to get to a local Tikkun Leil Shavuot event, I’m hosting one here online!

So far, the lineup of teachers looks like this (times are Pacific Daylight time):

Rabbi Goldmann, Student Rabbi Bargeron, Dr. Grist, and Rabbi Adar

7-7:55 pmRabbi Deborah Goldmann, Congregation Shaareth Israel, Lubbock TX. “Who Was Standing at Sinai?”

8-8:55pmStudent Rabbi Meir Bargeron, MSW, MAHL, Hebrew Union College Los Angeles, “Doing Unto Others: Compassion in Judaism.”

9-9:55pmJehon Grist, Ph.D., Lehrhaus Judaica, “The Divine Feminine in the Biblical World.”

10-10:55pm – Rabbi Ruth Adar, Coffee Shop Rabbi, “Tzedakah as a Spiritual Practice.” Rabbi Adar is a contributor to The Sacred Exchange: Creating a Jewish Money Ethic published this spring by CCAR Press.

The program will be FREE to all comers. I will post the link for the Zoom room in a post in a new message on this the blog on the afternoon of Saturday, June 8. All you have to do is look in here, click on the link, and bingo! You will be in our session room. If you have friends who might enjoy joining us, please pass the word to them.