HIGH HOLIDAYS: MORE THAN FOOD
There is a story which is often told in our congregation of a family calling from Manhattan inquiring about celebrating an Aufruf (a pre wedding blessing ceremony) at our synagogue.
This occurred about six years ago, soon after my arrival.
The mother of the groom who had family connections in Glen Cove, insisted that she wanted to hold the event on a Saturday afternoon, rather than in the morning as is the custom.
I asked, "Why would you want to do something like that? After all, Saturday morning is a time of prayer, learning and celebration. Besides, the Saturday morning service has many layers and is rich with tradition."
I will always remember her reply.
"No Rabbi. We'd like it short and sweet and that's why we want Saturday afternoon. Besides, holding it on a Saturday morning would be too Jewishy."
It was one of my first exposures to Judaism in the United States, and for a very quick moment, I considered packing up my books and heading back to Canada. To that point, I had never heard of concepts such as Jewishy or Jewish style.
Earlier this week, upon my return from presiding at a wedding in Canada, I walked into local upscale deli grocery to buy a can of juice, and noticed a flyer pinned to the front window announcing that Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is coming.
"Order your meal now. We'll cater your entire celebration."
And I thought to myself "huh?" For although having a festive meal with family and friends is very much a part of the High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah is by no means a celebration.
Indeed, it is one of the greatest tragedies within American Judaism - a sign that we are becoming more Jew-ish, that for many the Holy Day of Rosh Hashanah has been reduced to a sumptuous family meal.
Rather, tradition insists that what happens between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is not about food, or who or what is at the table, but rather what is in our hearts.
This evening, August 17 marks the first day of the month of Elul.
Within Judaism we take special care to usher in every month, for each has its own personality. Nissan, which encompasses Passover, is the month of freedom. Tishrei which arrives on Rosh Hashanah celebrates the birth of the world. Av which we are just completing commemorates sadness and tragedy.
But Elul is something extra special.
It reminds us that Rosh Hashanah is only weeks away and encourages us to consider how we will walk into synagogue in a month's time with questions to consider.
"Why am I here? How much time do I have left? How much extra load am I carrying? How can I behave better? What do I need to let go of? Who is it that I have to make things right with?"
The word Elul actually comes from the word "search" in Aramaic.
It is therefore contingent upon us, if indeed we wish to be more than Jew-ish, to begin thinking now about our lives especially now during those long summer drives to visit relatives and friends, or during those pleasant walks in the sweet August air.
For in the end, it is not God who judges us for the year ahead, as much as we judge ourselves.
As much as we can blame Judaism for often being out of reach, each of us possesses the ability to reach into ourselves.
And while it is so important to break bread on important Jewish holidays -- to renew ties -- and to recall and pass on traditions -- to do this and this alone misses the mark.
For there is much wisdom and reflection about life contained in our storied faith which asks us "what kind of person do we truly want to be."
It begins this week with the start of the month of Elul, Judaism's search engine.
Which part of our lives are we prepared to explore?
Will the next month guide us to something new, or will it lead us to the "same old same old?"
Jewish tradition provides us with a gentle and reflective road map to reach our life destination. All it asks of us in return is that we have the courage to turn the key.
Will we have the courage this year to remove the dash from Jew-ish?
Indeed, we are capable of so much more.
Shabbat shalom, v'kol tuv (with all goodness).
Rabbi Irwin Huberman