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The Meaning of this Sacred Season: A Glossary for the High Holidays

How does one prepare for the possibilities that this season offers for personal growth? On the Saturday evening before Rosh Hashanah, poetry, music and prayers of forgiveness are offered. Often, a film and discussion, or special musical program, and Havdalah accent the evening.

Rosh Hashanah:
This is the beginning of our New Year, marking God’s creation of the universe and our own fresh start. We join in prayer both evening and morning. Since many of our members celebrate two days, we also offer a creative, spiritual experience for the second morning of Rosh Hashanah, including informal worship, extended Torah study, and shofar calls.

On the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah, we gather by a stream to toss away our sins symbolically. Each person takes a small piece of challah, considers what sin s/he wishes to discard and throws the crumb into the flowing water, followed by a blast from the shofar. All ages!

Yom Kippur:
The Day of Atonement when we seek forgiveness from God for our sins.

Kol Nidre:
The evening service for Yom Kippur is named after the first important musical prayer, which beseeches God to annul any vows we have made in vain. The service is about one and a half hours long. It begins with the powerful music of Kol Nidre, intoned by our Cantor, choir and our gifted cellist. The themes of sin and forgiveness are introduced and personalized; we are guided towards teshuva, a positive shift in spiritual direction. We write down our regrets and sins, which are reflected on throughout the next day.

Morning Worship:
Yom Kippur worship continues in the morning and throughout the day. It includes Torah study. Throughout our worship, we reflect upon and recite our communal and personal sins.

Midday Study:
Following morning worship, adults gather in the Library for an hour of spiritual conversation on a theme related to Yom Kippur. Teens gather in the BarTY Lounge for reflection together. We might explore our understanding of God, the Torah, or the process by which Judaism helps us to evolve.

Afternoon Service of Renewal:
After the morning hours of serious reflection, this worship experience offers uplifting renewal. The afternoon service includes a Torah reading from Leviticus, highlighting the Holiness Code, the core guidelines from the Torah about how to live meaningfully.

Yizkor means remembrance. Five times a year we invoke the names of loved ones who have passed away: on the anniversary of their deaths (yahrzeit), the three Festivals of Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot; and Yom Kippur. This memorial service reminds us that as we begin a New Year with cleansed spirits, we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. Remembering them, we hope to emulate their finest values and qualities. It is customary to light a memorial candle at home as Yom Kippur begins, perhaps before sitting down to dinner.

The final service of Yom Kippur. Powerful and dramatic, it closes with a Havdalah ceremony and final blast from the shofar. Havdalah takes place as the sun sets, marking the end of Shabbat and Yom Kippur, with a goblet of wine; a container of sweet, aromatic spices; and a braided candle.

With the close of the day, we join together for a break-the-fast, celebrating our new beginning.

Al Chet:
Traditional prayer in Hebrew and English that includes a litany of sins.

Avinu Malkeinu:
Traditional prayer whose majestic melody embodies the sense of the High Holidays. These words were first invoked by Rabbi Akiba in the second century, petitioning God to hear our prayer; and so we pray today: God: hear us, pardon us, forgive us.

The elevated stage from where the Torah is read.

On Yom Kippur, it is customary for adults to fast for the day, drawing a physical parallel to the spiritual cleansing. Fasting also heightens the prayer experience.

Free Will Campaign:
Our Congregation has a tradition of inviting worshipers to offer a financial gift, which supports the operating budget of the Congregation. Though dues cover our primary expenses, this fund-raising effort is the primary one of the Congregation. (For those new to a synagogue experience: the entire operation of the Congregation — its facility, programs and staff — is upheld by the contributions and dues of members. No outside source funds our presence.)

Throughout our worship, you will observe individuals being called to the bima for certain privileges: carrying a Torah scroll, reciting a blessing, chanting from the Torah… These honors are accorded to individuals in the Congregation who have demonstrated outstanding commitment to our community through financial support and/or devotion of time and energy. Their love enables us to thrive.

Kipa (yarmulke):
A skull cap, which when worn during prayer, may deepen personal humility. Wearing one reflects personal choice. Kipa is Hebrew; yarmulke is Yiddish.

The shofar (ram’s horn) is sounded several times throughout Rosh Hashanah morning, during Tashlich, and once at the conclusion of Yom Kippur. An ancient symbol, it was used to convene the Israelites as they wandered in the desert. Since the days of the Jerusalem Temple, its haunting call has roused us during the High Holidays. Three series of sounds are invoked, reflecting creation, the revelation of Torah, and ultimate redemption.

Tallit (tallis):
A prayer shawl distinguished by knotted fringes at the corners of the garment. The fringes remind of God’s love and oneness, and may deepen one’s concentration during prayer. The worshiper may choose to wear a tallit.

Torah Study:
The Torah includes the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Torah is studied three times throughout the High Holidays. The texts included are the story of Creation, the Akeda (the sacrifice of Isaac), Nitzavim (the convening of the community as a people of Torah), and the Holiness Code (the central guidelines for living Jewishly). Judaism teaches that one cannot change on the basis of will alone; our guide and barometer for personal growth is the Torah. Study of Torah brings us to wisdom.

Tue, December 5 2023 22 Kislev 5784