Opinions Rosh Hashanah 5779

The Days of Awe — It Is Never Too Late to Return

Rabbi Mark Zimmerman is the rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom.

Rabbi Mark Zimmerman

The High Holidays are arriving a bit early this year. At least so rabbis keep hearing. But did you notice that the holidays never seem to arrive on time?

So when exactly is “on time” for Rosh Hashanah? For many of us, the answer seems to be: one week later than when they appear on the calendar! But actually “on time” should be when we have properly prepared our souls for the experience; when we are ready to return to our roots and make a fresh start. That’s what the month of Elul leading up to Rosh Hashanah is supposed to be about. A month of preparation to truly experience the Days of Awe.

I often wonder why so many Jews, particularly those who are not as connected to the rhythms of Jewish living, put everything else aside to go to shul during this particular time of year. There must be some mysterious force that brings us back year after year. I know some of us come out of a sense of religious conviction.

Others come out of a sense of guilt, or simply force of habit. But like the salmon that must return to the stream from which it spawned, there is an almost irresistible force that calls most of us back to shul to usher in the New Year.

Something often pointed to in the world of Yiddish culture is the concept of das pintele yid, that tiny part of a Jew that just never quits. It is that little spark of Jewishness dwelling inside each and every one of us that is virtually indestructible.

No matter how hard someone tries to leave their Jewishness behind, there is a part of us that cannot get away. Run to the ends of the earth, and it will still be there.

Tell everyone you’re not that religious, and the pintele yid will tug at your neshama (soul) and call you back home.

Whatever it is that brings us back to connect one with another and to become part of a synagogue kehillah is certainly praiseworthy. People join congregations for many different reasons, and often sign up for one of the various “life plans” that resonate with them. There is the “High Holiday Plan” (available in either the one, two, or three day-a-year option); the “Bar/Bat Mitzvah Plan,” which expires once the youngest child reaches 13 years of age; and of course, the “Lifelong Membership Plan.” But those who join the “Frequent Daveners’ Plan” are clearly the winners, getting the most for their synagogue shekel.

Perhaps part of what I find so inspiring about the High Holidays is that it is during this special time of year that all the different facets of our shul communities come together in one place, notice one another, and acknowledge each other’s presence — becoming a real kehillah kedosha, a holy community.

Jewish demographers explain that the sense of belonging that our parents and grandparents held so dear doesn’t always resonate today. But I’m not so sure. I often think it’s just one of those cyclical parts of human nature. Often those who have left their Judaism far behind come to realize later in life that something isn’t quite right; that a certain ruach is missing. And many times, it is that spiritual hunger that brings the disaffected among us back home again — sometimes when you least expect it.

The High Holidays have long been that catalyst that brings Jews back home when they are spiritually hungry. These powerful days teach us that it is never too late to do teshuva, to come back into the Jewish fold and rekindle your relationship with God, Torah and the Jewish people. By returning we can recapture what we have lost, or even acquire what we never had in the first place.

We are blessed to live in a wonderful Jewish community that offers countless venues through which to deepen our knowledge and connection to our heritage. And at Beth Shalom we have created a special community for those who have decided to come along with us on their Jewish journey and share meaningful Jewish moments together throughout the year.

There are so many ways for us to recapture and rekindle the Jewish spark in our lives.

The holidays are almost here. It is time to come home.

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