Recently, Shalom New Haven asked our local clergy for their spiritual thoughts and guidance on the upcoming High Holy Day. Here is what several clergy had to say.
Rabbi Eric Woodward,
Beth El – Keser Israel [BEKI]
I love going to synagogue and being in community. BEKI is a thriving, growing community, and the energy around the High Holy Days is electric.
But to be totally honest, I think that the real spiritual work of the High Holy Days — and the spiritual benefits — come from times we aren’t in synagogue, and the reflection and growth we do then.
Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav writes: "You may be in some place when suddenly you have a thought of growth and a deep longing for God. Stop then and, there in that very place, take a moment to focus on the thought and the feeling of longing. Turn them into a prayer. Put your longing into words straight from your heart.” (Likutey Moharan II, 124).
Take the time around the High Holy Days — the other weeks and days — and think about who you are, who you are becoming, and who you have been. If those thoughts bring you to a place of longing — “I wish I was still this person!” “I want to change in this way!” — then take some time to focus on those words and thoughts. (That’s prayer, by the way.) Take some time to reflect. Not just to reflect intellectually — rather, to take those words and ideas and connect them to your heart; to your feelings.
One of the lessons of the High Holy Days is that we can’t successfully change our thoughts or behaviors without also doing heart work, spiritual work, work on what our deep needs are. (Another lesson is that changing our actions also helps us to change our hearts.)
In the coming year, do this reflective work. Come to synagogue, but don’t only come to synagogue — do something that puts you in a touch with your longing and inspires you to growth.
Rabbi Dennis Moss
Congregation Mishkan Israel
It may not be obvious to many, but one of the wonderful and increasingly rare attributes of the Greater New Haven Jewish community is that it really is a community.
As soon as I got here in early July, your rabbis extended themselves with congratulations and welcome, and made me immediately feel at home. That doesn’t happen everywhere. To be sure, the leaders and members of Congregation Mishkan Israel in Hamden graciously offered measures of support during my relocation and transition, and they continue to be present for me, as they are for the congregation and community. Yet, at a time when interdenominational and even interfaith involvement wanes, especially in the wake of Covid, this Jewish and, for that matter, inter-religious community stands remarkably strong.
The approaching High Holy Day season is a time for stock taking around oneself, one’s family, the local and world Jewish community, and of our larger community, all from a Jewish spiritual perspective. We reflect privately, yet, at the same time, together in our individual congregations. I hope, that if you are not yet affiliated with a synagogue, you open a membership soon. Being part of a Jewish community contributes a valuable spiritual dimension to life, one that we will not necessarily find elsewhere.
On the High Holy Days, I take much satisfaction calling attention to graces we enjoy that, until I notice them, passed unrecognized and underappreciated, as if hiding in plain sight. So, let me call out that this is a great community. I hope you appreciate it and that you don’t take it for granted. Members of many other religious communities and Jewish communities tell me that they wish they could participate in the kind of educational, social, worship, social justice, and other activities that are a hallmark of Greater Jewish New Haven.
It is my privilege to be called to Congregation Mishkan Israel and I look forward to greeting you in 5784.
With wishes for a year of health, sweetness and fulfillment,
Rabbi Benjamin Scolnic
Temple Beth Sholom
Every rabbi thinks long and hard about the sermons they will give on the High Holy Days. The most difficult decision is what to say about the major themes in current events. There are many rabbis who refrain from talking about these themes, afraid that they will be called “too political.” They beg people to listen to each other, to try to understand each other. They remind us that there are two sides to every argument. This is a safe thing to say, and in normal circumstances, a lovely message. Certainly, we should listen and try to understand.
These are not, however, normal times. Democracy, justice, equality, and progress are all under attack and in real danger of being diluted, ruined, and destroyed. Once I have determined that the person on the other side is speaking high-sounding words that are a cynical cover for seeking power and rolling back rights to an earlier, racist, and misogynist time, why should I refrain from intense debate and substantive action? To hide behind the curtain of listening and understanding is a kind of easy cowardice that will be seen by those who view anything but active resistance as a green light for their drive toward tyranny.
And so, on these High Holy Days, I will talk about many themes, including the meaning of true happiness and ongoing grief. But I also will explain that Jewish people are witnesses to history and that we know where demagoguery and cult worship lead, that good people must have the courage to stand up to those who would take us down the road of darkness. This is not a time to hide, but to be counted in the fight against evil.
Cantor Kochava Munro
Congregation B'nai Jacob
When I was a child, I lived in Woodbridge, Connecticut, where I attended Ezra Academy until I was six years old. Since then, I have lived in four other states, married my husband Jacob, and recently received Cantorial Ordination and a Master’s of Jewish Education from Hebrew College.
As I move back to Connecticut 20+ years later, I am struck by my changed perspective. Even when physical spaces may remain the same, people grow, as each new year brings its challenges, journeys, and achievements. As a daughter of a cantor, I remember falling in love with Jewish music from a young age and listening to my parents perform as a duo. Now I am able to bring that joyous music to Congregation B’nai Jacob to build community through song.
I consider the High Holy Days to be a time of deep self-reflection. We notice what has changed within us over the past year and how we can use that growth to build positive relationships and spread kindness to others and ourselves.
May we all have the strength to endure the challenges and embrace the joys over the coming year. Shana tova u’metukah!