In keeping with Jewish tradition, spiritual leaders will attempt to "stir" the hearts of their congregants this month with High Holy Day sermons dedicated to themes of repentance. Haaretz has spoken with four Anglo spiritual leaders about the messages they plan to impart on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which begins September 16 at sundown; on Yom Kippur, September 26; and on the Sabbath between the two dates, known as Shabbat Shuva, the Sabbath of Return.
The following are excerpts from these interviews, which may be heard in the embedded video.
Listen to each other:
Rabbi Stewart Weiss (Orthodox), is the director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana. Weiss is a native of Chicago, Illinois, who immigrated to Israel from Dallas, Texas, in 1992:
“I think that the primary message that I want to communicate this Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur is for all of us to work on our interpersonal relationships, and specifically on the art of hearing,” says Weiss. “The rabbis say that every holiday has a color. It also has a sense. ... The sense of the High Holy Days, clearly, is hearing: to listen to the shofar, to ask God to listen to our prayers, and I think most importantly to listen to one another. Israel is a country where we are excellent at communicating, at talking − we probably spend more time on the cell phone, per capita, than any other country. But it’s listening that we have to work on, and perfect that art. God gave us two ears, one mouth. We should be doing twice as much listening."
Hope and action
Rabbi Miri Gold (Reform), leads Kehilat Birkat Shalom in Kibbutz Gezer, a regional synagogue affiliated with the Israeli Reform movement. Gold is a native of Detroit, Michigan, who immigrated to Israel in 1977:
“I hope to convey a message of hope and action,” says Gold.
“I believe that Judaism is all about doing. And after we’ve gone through our soul-searching in the month of Elul, I think there’s a tendency to come up feeling discouraged and despairing over all of the things that went wrong in our own lives and in our society and in our world. And so the message I’m trying to convey is that during this holiday season, when we often talk about it as the birth of the world and humankind, that we can realize that it’s really a time when we can make changes and show by our actions that even on a very small and modest level we can make the world a better place − tikkun olam.”
Search for meaning
Rabbi Jeff Cymet (Masorti) leads Kehila Chadasha, a new congregation in North Tel Aviv. He is a native of Hollywood, Florida, who immigrated to Israel in 1992. A practicing attorney, Cymet was ordained four years ago at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York City:
“I’m going to convey this High Holy Day season what we convey every High Holy Day season, which is the search for meaning,” says Cymet. “Everyone ... needs to recommit and renew and refresh their own personal mission. And we do that with the understanding that each one of us is mortal. None of us will live forever, and we know each and every year there are some who will live and some who will die. And we need to figure out how to make our own lives meaningful in that context − meaningful in the context of knowing that each one of us will have an end at some point and how to make our works for the coming year have some lasting value.”
Ask for redemption
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin (Orthodox) is the founding Chief Rabbi of Efrat and founder and dean of the Ohr Torah Stone Institutions, in the United States and Israel. A native of New York City, Rabbi Riskin immigrated to Israel in 1983:
“What is it that we’re supposed to ask of God? Most people who come to the synagogue ask for another year of life. Ask for good health. Ask for pleasure from their children. Ask for good sustenance,” says Riskin. “But there’s a story by [the Yiddish writer I. L.] Peretz, ‘Bontshe Shtok,’ Bontshe the Silent, about a man who lived a horrific life and never said a word against God or against man. When he came to heaven, God asked him, ‘You tell me what you want as your reward.’ The only thing he could ask for was a fresh roll and hot butter every morning. And Satan laughed the mordant laugh of victory. Sometimes the world can be so difficult it robs an individual of his dreams and of real vision. He could have asked for redemption.”
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