Days of Hope and Awe

Today I received this beautiful message, sent to the members of B’nai Tikvah by their rabbi, Rabbi Jennie Chabon. I’m sharing her words with you because we are all challenged by these hard times and are grieved to not be able to be together for the High Holy Days.


The smoke is less intense today, thank God, but I still hope you are staying healthy and safe inside your homes until we can all breathe fresh air again.

Every day seems to bring new challenges to what is already the most challenging time that most of us have ever been through. What more will 2020 bring? How can we continue to show up and say hineni, I’m here, I’m present, even if the world looks nothing like we want it to look? How do we continue to reach for the light?

With the High Holidays just a few days away, you can all imagine how often these questions have been on my mind. Will we succeed in bringing people together in a meaningful way through everyone’s laptop screens? Will we all find moments of emotional catharsis without getting to be in the same room together, without the moments of majesty that are created by communal singing and connection?

If you were at our Selichot services on Saturday night, then you know that the answer to those questions is yes! It IS possible to feel connected and uplifted, to feel moved and transformed, while praying from home. I left Selichot feeling immensely hopeful about the power of our liturgy to heal us, even from afar.

There is a story in the Tanna D’Veit Eliyuahu Zuta, a medieval midrash, about King David, who knew that far into the future, his great Temple would be destroyed. Without the Temple, David understood that the Israelites would no longer be able to offer sacrifices to atone for their sins. Worried, he asked God how to help them. “So God said to David, when troubles come upon Israel, let them

  1. stand before me together as a single unit (ba’agudat achat)
  2. and make confession before me
  3. and say the selichot (forgiveness) service before me and I will answer them” (Rabbi Alan Lew, This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared, page 94)

Friends, troubles have come upon the whole world this year. And according to this midrash, when we stand together as a single unit over the High Holidays, and offer open-hearted prayers to God, we will be answered. The destruction of the Temple did not destroy our connection to God and to our ancient liturgical practices, and neither will the Coronavirus or the fires. Transformation is indeed coming!

I look forward to celebrating and praying with you all in the coming days and weeks. Our bima team has been working so hard to offer up creative, musical, meaningful services for us this year and I’m very excited to share the results with you all. And of course, I have some surprises planned, so please join us for what will be a memorable High Holiday experience for us all.

Shanah tovah,

Rabbi Chabon