New Music: Eric Komar, “Justice, Justice”

It’s no secret that justice is a big deal for me. I have the quote from Micah right there on the front of this blog:

He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord demands of you; to do justice, to show mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8

That’s sort of in-your-face, wouldn’t you say? If you needed a commandment that sort of encompasses the idea of tikkun olam, I can’t find a better place to start.

Well, in the last few weeks, I’ve been expanding my Jewish-and-Hebrew music collection. In a search for recordings of the Shehecheyanu, I discovered Eric Komar. Unfortunately, his music isn’t available on YouTube, but you should definitely look him up on his own page at http://www.komarmusic.com/merch.html, or at iTunes or Spotify. And the first song of his you should look for and listen to is “Justice, Justice,” from his album Two Life.

I’ll just put the lyrics here.

Justice, Justice
Eric Komar

Too many hungry families sleeping on the street
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek
Too many addicts trying to get back on their feet
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek
Too many tyrants wreaking havoc on their lands
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek
Too many helpless victims of destructive plans
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek

(Chorus)
Do justly, love mercy
Walk humbly with your God
Justice, justice shall you follow
Tzedek, tzedek tirdof

Too many jobs denied because of greed or race
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek
Too many laws defied; the wrong side wins the case
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek

Do justly, love mercy
Walk humbly with your God
Justice, justice shall you follow
Tzedek, tzedek tirdof

Too many young and feeble heartlessly snuffed out
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek
Too many old and sick nobody cares about
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek
Too many selfish interests trump the common good
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek
Too many messages not being understood!
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek

Do justly, love mercy
Walk humbly with your God
Justice, justice shall you follow
Tzedek, tzedek tirdof
Do justly, love mercy
Walk humbly with your God
Justice, justice shall you follow
Tzedek, tzedek tirdof
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek
Oh… justice, justice!

Tirdof tzedek, tzedek.

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Coming Up For Air

So, a few things have happened since my last post.

1. I got legally married. My husband and I planned very carefully to make sure we could get married on a Friday without violating the Sabbath. We got married about ten minutes before sundown on October 31st, surrounded by friends. It was lovely.

2. There’s a very good chance that we will reprise the wedding next year as a religious wedding, with a huppah and everything. The other night my husband told me that there’s a 99% chance he’s going to convert with me. We’ve started attending the Taste of Judaism classes at our temple, and we’re definitely taking the Introduction to Judaism course that starts in January. There’s a very good chance we’ll take our mikveh dip at the same time.

3. I have purchased our own copy of the siddur used at our temple – the Mishkan T’Filah Reform Siddur. Last night we did Havdalah together and included a few readings from the siddur as part of it. (I wish I could find a recording of Elana Jagoda’s Havdalah song that was available as an MP3 instead of only on YouTube, though.)

4. There is no fourth thing.

5. I have been overwhelmed with work and other issues, which is why I haven’t been posting. I’m sure that “getting married” counts as something overwhelming, doesn’t it?

I’m also working on my antipathy towards the fundamentalists in my own faith. I have to get past this; it’s making it hard for me to practice tikkun olam. Reading part of Spiritual Activism by Rabbi Avraham Weiss (an Orthodox rabbi who calls for unity among all Jews and does not judge non-Orthodox Jews – for the most part) helped. I may talk about that in a few days.

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Sim Shalom – Steve McConnell Arrangement

I’ll just share this here. After this past Shabbat morning, where I went to a bat mitzvah and the entire b’nei mitzvah class sang “Sim Shalom” to the tune of the round, “Dona Nobis Pacem,” I have had the song in my head. I have always loved the music (and frankly, the words) of that round; I sang it for years as a child and adolescent, and I know all three lines to the round.

But this arrangement of Sim Shalom… well, it blew me away. I found myself singing along before the first play-through was half done, and harmonizing on my second time around, without thought. It’s simply one of the most simple and beautiful arrangements of a song I’ve ever heard.

I hope that it will hit you as hard as it hit me.

Sim Shalom (Steve McConnell Arrangement)

Sim shalom, sim shalom
Tovah uv’rachah chaim
Sim shalom, sim shalom
Chen vachesed verachamim

Vetov yihyeh be’eineicha levar’cheinu ulevarech
Et kol amcha Yisrael
Bechol et uvechol sha’ah bish’lomecha
Uvechol sha’ah bish’lomecha

Sim shalom, sim shalom
Tovah uv’rachah chaim
Sim shalom, sim shalom
Chen vachesed verachamim

Father, may you find it to be pleasing in Your eyes
To bless all of your people Israel
Bless us with peace each moment and in every hour
May Your peace be with us in every hour

Sim shalom, sim shalom
Tovah uv’rachah chaim
Sim shalom, sim shalom
Chen vachesed verachamim
Chen vachesed verachamim
Chen vachesed verachamim

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Friday Feature: And Now For Something A Little Different

16 Tishrei 5775

I want to talk a little bit about responsibility. Specifically, personal responsibility.

During Yom Kippur, I had some guilt and shame about what I had done to my fellows, but by and large not much. To myself, on the other hand…

In the Maccabeats’ “Book of Good Life,” which I’ve linked to many times in the last few weeks, one character’s mitzvah seemed, to me, to be something I would never be able to do. This character in the video wakes up, rolls out of bed, throws on his kippah, grabs a slice of cold pizza from the fridge, and goes out to do whatever he does. But taking care of his body is not one of those things. Later, after he’s had a chance to consider his actions, he ends up at the gym pumping iron – caring for his body, in other words.

Jewish teaching is that caring for the body is a mitzvah. That’s really hard for me to believe or accept because I have always lived in my head. My body is just what I ride around in. But if it is a mitzvah to care for the body, then I must accept that.

I’m a diet-controlled diabetic. I am overweight. Severely so. I low-carbed for a long time, but this summer, with the heat and the heat and, well, the heat, I succumbed to the siren songs of ice cream and frozen yogurt and fried rice and many other things I’m ashamed of now. I gained 20 pounds between my doctor’s appointment in June and the one I just had today.

Obviously, this can’t go on. So I am making my New Year’s resolution: I am going to treat my body better than I have been. It’s back on the low-carb diet, hopefully for good this time. This means that I will get one small piece of my gluten-free challah and one SMALL cup of grape juice on Shabbat, and that’s it in terms of carb intake. Everything else is going to be the ketogenic diet that brought my diabetes under control for the first time in my life. I have too much to lose now. I’m aiming to keep myself below 100 g of carbs per day, and eventually below 50 g of carbs per day.

My partner supports what I need to do. He needs to do it, too. We’re getting married on the last day of the (non-Jewish) month, and we both want to be around for each other for a long, long time. So we are changing our ways. Low-carb, and going to the gym to lift weights regularly. More activity, and less sitting. More paying attention to our bodies, and less denying that they matter.

So today, I am thankful for something. I’m thankful for a change in my attitude, as well as my partner’s support in that change.

Shabbat shalom, all. I’ll see you again after Saturday night is here.

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Seven Things About My First Yom Kippur

Here’s seven things about my very first Yom Kippur (and yes, I did say a shehecheyanu for it):

1. Over the course of two Torah services, I was called for four (group-based, granted, but still) aliyot. “All guests stand to say the first aliyah” at the first service, and “all teachers,” “all artists,” and “everyone” at the second service. And I still can’t quite pronounce the whole Hebrew blessing on the Torah, but at least now I can reliably sing the beginnings and ends of them.

2. I did eat something before services because my doctor would have killed me if I didn’t. But I was able to wait until services were over before I felt the need to eat, which was nicely taken care of by my fiancé when he picked me up.

3. I made a couple of new acquaintances when we got talking after the anger-management workshop in the middle of the day. We talked so long that we missed the Yizkor and made it to second service just on time. Whew.

4. I am learning the songs rapidly. The words, not so much.

5. At the break-fast afterwards, my grain-free challah went over really well and I got multiple requests for the recipe. Many people couldn’t believe it was gluten-free – “But it doesn’t taste like a rock!” was the most common objection.

6. I symbolically fulfilled the mitzvah of beginning to build a sukkah right after breaking my fast by driving a nail into the communal sukkah that was waiting outside the temple after services were over.

7. The most stunning thing that I’ll remember from this is watching as the sky in the windows above the Ark went from bright day blue to medium afternoon blue to dark twilight blue to black as the services progressed. It really gave me a sense of “the gates are closing!!’ and of urgency, to see that as it was happening.

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“Deus meus, ex toto corde paenitet…” an ex-Catholic’s reflection on Yom Kippur

So, it’s Kol Nidre – also known as erev Yom Kippur. Think of it as “Day of Atonement Eve,” if you like. The last of the ten Days of Awe.

When I was a kid growing up Catholic, going to Confession was a Big Deal. As part of this uncomfortable ritual where you sat in a little box in the wall with the priest in another little box in the wall separated by a screen (so that anonymity could supposedly be preserved), you told him everything you’d done (or thought!) wrong in the past week or month: lies, anger, impure thoughts, impure deeds, sins you’d committed, sins you’d committed by failing to act… the list went on and on.

At the end of this little recitation, you recited the Act of Contrition. I’ve provided the beginning of it in the title of this piece. Translated, that means (essentially): “O my God, I am most heartily sorry.”

The entire prayer – which has to be said before forgiveness comes from the priest – goes like this.

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven, and the pains of hell, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and amend my life.  Amen.

There are other English translations. Some say “I firmly resolve to go and sin no more.” Well. That’s a little unrealistic, don’t you think? (Especially since in the Catholic tradition, thoughts are also sins.)

Yeah, it is unrealistic. But I realized in the last few days that it’s also my image of what “contrition” – and thus atonement – looks like. To me, this doesn’t look especially healthy. It looks like self-guilt-tripping and it brings up the whole God-As-Cosmic-Bully problem that I’ve mentioned before.

The Ashamnu and Al Cheyt prayers, which are part of the Vidui services on Yom Kippur, are different from this in one very important way. They are communal confessions, not individual ones. They are communal statements of wrongdoing and a communal resolution to do better in the future. That means you’re not being singled out for what you did. We’re all atoning at the same time, for the same things, in the same way. We can lean on each other for support while we confess and repent.

One online source I found gives the Ashamnu as a list of 24 sins that we, as a community, must improve upon:

Ashamnu

Ashamnu: We have trespassed.

Bagadnu: We have dealt treacherously.

Gazlalnu: We have robbed.

Dibarnu dofi: We have spoken slander.

He’evinu: We have acted perversely.

V’hirshanu: We have done wrong.

Zadnu: We have acted presumptuously.

Hamasnu: We have done violence.

Tafalnu sheker: We have practiced deceit.

Yaatsnu ra: We have counseled evil.

Kizavnu: We have spoken falsehood.

Latsnu: We have scoffed.

Maradnu: We have revolted.

Niatsnu: We have blasphemed.

Sararnu: We have rebelled.

Avinu: We have committed iniquity.

Pashanu: We have transgressed.

Tsararnu: We have oppressed.

Kishinu oref: We have been stiff-necked.

Rashanu: We have acted wickedly.

Shichatnu: We have dealt corruptly.

Tiavnu: We have committed abomination.

Tainu: We have gone astray.

Titanu: We have led others astray.

To me, this seems to be the “confession” part of the atonement process. We’re admitting we did these things. So far so good, right?

The contrition part, or atonement part, come with the Al Cheyt (Al Chet, in some transliterations). This has 44 statements of petition for forgiveness. A search online tells me that the Al Cheyt is like the Pesach haggadah; many people have written their own Al Cheyt to address sins that are not listed in the original Al Cheyt (like environmental sins, or homophobia, or sexism). Examples include this one from the Velveteen Rabbi and this one from Zeh Lezeh.

In Hebrew, “chet” or “cheyt” means “sin.” It’s one of the three main kinds of sin. Knowing that the translation of is literally “To miss the mark” – it comes from archery, where you didn’t quite hit the target you were aiming for – I have written out my understanding of the 44 statements below.

For missing the mark before You both under duress and willingly;

For missing the mark before You through having a hardened heart;

For missing the mark before You thoughtlessly or without awareness;

For missing the mark before You through our words and our deeds;

For missing the mark before You in public and in private;
For missing the mark before You in our immorality;

For missing the mark before You in the use of harsh speech;

For missing the mark before You with knowledge and with deceit;

For missing the mark before You through our inner thoughts;

For missing the mark before You through the wronging of our friends;

For missing the mark before You through insincerity or false apology;

For missing the mark before You by gathering to do harm to others;

For missing the mark before You by our will and by our carelessness;

For missing the mark before You by false statements towards our teachers and our parents;

For missing the mark before You by the exercise of our power and our privilege;

For missing the mark before You for through desecration of Your Name through our words or actions;

For missing the mark before You through thoughtless and foolish words;

For missing the mark before You with vulgarity and unpleasantness;

For missing the mark before You through hedonism and disregard for goodness;

For missing the mark before You through our actions against those who know and those who do not;

For missing the mark before You through bribery;

For missing the mark before You through false promises;

For missing the mark before You through gossip and negative speech;

For missing the mark before You through scorn and disrespect of others;

For missing the mark before You in our business and workplace practices;

For missing the mark before You with food and with drink;

For missing the mark before You through the exploitation of our financial agreements;

For missing the mark before You through arrogance and incivility;

For missing the mark before You through our facial expressions and our gestures;

For missing the mark before You through excessive and unconsidered speech;

For missing the mark before You through our self-righteousness;

For missing the mark before You through ignoring the moral consequences of our actions;

For missing the mark before You through ignoring or refusing our commitments and responsibilities;

For missing the mark before You through our judgmental behaviors and actions;

For missing the mark before You through violating our friends’ boundaries;

For missing the mark before You through envy and jealousy;

For missing the mark before You through frivolity and shallowness;

For missing the mark before You through refusing to see another’s point of view;

For missing the mark before You through rushing through the good and prolonging our time in evil;

For missing the mark before You through repeating gossip to its target;

For missing the mark before You through taking our vows in vain;

For missing the mark before You through our hatred of those who are not like us;

For missing the mark before You for avoiding acts of charity;

For missing the mark before You through the confusion of our hearts.

For all of these things, O God, forgive us, pardon us, and permit us to atone. 

Obviously, Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur have brought up some uncomfortable echoes out of my Catholic past. This Act of Contrition is obviously one of them. Another is the fast. The all-day, 26-hour fast. Sundown tonight to sundown tomorrow.

And how I wish I could do that. Mortification of the body is a really penitent-feeling thing for me.

But medically, I am not able to fast. I feel awful about it, too. I fasted every year from the time I was eleven years old on Good Friday (the Friday before Easter Sunday) until I left the Catholic Church. But I wasn’t a diabetic back then. My diabetes diagnosis five or six years ago put an end to fasting for me. I’m completely diet-controlled, so far, but if I go more than six hours without protein and fat, I get suicidally depressed as my blood sugar bottoms out. And because of the damage that diabetes does to a diabetic’s kidneys, I am medically not allowed to go without hydration.

Instead of the mitzvah of fasting on Yom Kippur like every other Jew I know, I’ll have to settle for the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh. It just doesn’t feel as righteous to me, somehow. It bothers me.

But it’s also not something I can do without making myself physically ill. So, no fasting.

Instead, my partner and I are going to coordinate. He doesn’t feel ready to go to Yom Kippur services, so he will be doing our laundry that day while I go to services all day, starting at 11 a.m. I will eat something before I go to temple so that I can hold out for a few hours while he goes and does other things. He’ll drop me off, so we won’t have to worry about “where do I park?” (a big problem at my synagogue; all the parking is street parking) or “how do I drive when I’m low-blood-sugary?” He’ll stop by once in the middle of the day to see if I need a snack and a drink, and I know I will. He’ll bring me some nuts and string cheese and a bottle of water at around 3 p.m. so I can have those and then go back into services. Then, he’ll pick me up after the fast-breaking when the sun has gone down.

It will be enough. It will have to be enough.

Today I’m going to bake gluten-free crown challah for the break-fast tomorrow night at temple, and go buy a few things for the food collection drive that happens tomorrow as part of the Yom Kippur services. Kol Nidre, for me, is at 8:30, which means I need to leave at about 7:30 to make sure I get parking.

I know that I’ve been missing the Friday Feature, and I’m sorry. Today does not feel like erev Shabbat. It’s erev Yom Kippur.

G’mar Chatima Tovah, everyone. May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life in this coming year, and every year.

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Shabbat Shuva redux

Erev Shabbat this week started out very stressful for me. My daughters don’t get out of school until 3 p.m., and I have to pick them up from my ex’s mom’s house, which is about 16 miles away.

16 miles away, you say? Not a bad drive – 20 minutes, right?

Try an hour and a half at that time of day. It’s awful. I can’t get there sooner, because the kids won’t be home yet. Getting there later means even worse traffic going back home. Welcome to Southern California.

So I spent most of the morning doing work that I could do: cleaning up the kitchen from the Rosh Hashanah meal the night before, setting up exams for my students (four of my six classes have an exam starting on Sunday morning, and not all of them were up yet), answering emails, doing a gasoline-and-grocery-run with the fiancé now that his check for the week had arrived; the usual stuff. I had one more exam to finish when I left at 2:45 to pick up my kids, and I knew that my fiancé would be at work that evening because that’s how his work runs and we can’t make them let him off for my religious holidays.

I got to their home at 4:15. We took streets home and that was another hour plus, with a stop at the grocery to pick up a couple things I’d forgotten in the earlier grocery run.

We didn’t arrive home until close to 5:30. So I decided that from now on, Shabbat starts when I light the candles, because no way was I going to be able to bake challah AND make dinner before sundown. Daughter #2 helped me make the entire Shabbat meal, and both daughters took over cleanup when it was done.

Shabbat meal, though late, was lovely: raisin-honey gluten-free challah (I made three loaves: two braided-mold and one piped-spiral crown challah); apples with honey (natch), tomato-garlic soup, plain potato kugel (which Daughter #1 LOVED – which is great, because she’s a picky eater), roasted chicken thighs with spices, Kedem grape juice for kiddush, ice water. I had planned on a dessert of apples and strawberries with Greek Gods honey Greek yogurt, but we were all too full! And I cooked for armies; we had enough soup to fill two quart containers, four pieces of the chicken, half the kugel, and even some apples left over.

Crown Challah

Crown Challah

To make the crown challah, I put a little over a third of the batter into a plastic bag and turned it into a giant piping bag, and piped it into a round baking pan in a spiral. I ran out of batter just before I would have been able to make that little spiral on the top, but it was definitely recognizable as crown challah. I was pleased.

The kids also stood with me while I said the blessings, lit the candles, and said kiddush and ha-motzi. We put away one of the braided loaves, and the round loaf for kiddush at temple this morning (about which, more later) but the one loaf we left out disappeared halfway through the meal. I think Daughter #1 got most of it.

I finished putting together the last exam, and then I collapsed into bed and slept the sleep of the righteously exhausted until pretty late this morning. I didn’t wake up until nearly 9 a.m.

The fiancé and I went to temple while the kids stayed home, which was fine. I was running on coffee and a bagel; I didn’t realize that my fiancé was running on short sleep and only a cup of coffee until halfway through the service. He had to get up and leave for a while. It was also not being run by the rabbi; he was with the B’nei Mitzvah seventh-graders at a thing at the park today, so it was the other fellow leading the services. He’s a great guy, but he’s not the rabbi, and my partner’s patience was very frayed due to hunger and headache. It was also awkward when he led us in “I am a Jew because…” as the main prayer and made a point of saying “I don’t want those who are our non-Jewish guests to feel excluded.” Um, dude… that’s only for me to mention, okay? I also wondered if I wasn’t allowed to say this prayer yet. Awk-ward.

No. It was an accident on his part. I am certain there was no malice. But damn it, I’m on the path, I’m not turning back. Sh’esani Israel. I am as Jew-ish as I can be without the mikveh dip. And that will come, hopefully no later than early June (I want it earlier, but that’s going to be up to the rabbi). But it still made me and my fiancé uncomfortable. I may take the man aside after High Holy Days are over and say “I would have been better with it if you had not made a point of it, okay?”

On the other hand, the crown challah we brought with us got a very happy reception when the worship leader lifted the challah cover and revealed not just their usual big loaf of regular challah but our little gluten-free crown loaf. The response was this sort of breathless chorus as it was revealed: “CROWN challah!” to which the worship leader responded by explaining a) it was gluten-free and b) the significance of a round loaf during High Holy Days. Everyone tried it. It was slightly more cake-y than I’d hoped, but it still tasted good. The alterations I’d made to the recipe (increasing potato starch and decreasing all-purpose gluten free flour, adding two more eggs and a half-cup of honey, and adding raisins) really worked well.

I got asked to submit the recipe to the new Sisterhood temple cookbook.

Then we came home to the discovery that Daughter #1 is without her anxiety meds for the weekend. We’re all trying to be patient with her; it must be hell for her. So we’ve all eaten (mostly leftovers) and now we’re at our corners of the apartment, trying to take the day easy.

After havdalah tonight, I’m going to be back on the emails and student work stuff. But for now I’m going to rest. Tonight I’m going to do some grading so that I can start making headway on it and not be wiped out all day Sunday doing nothing but grading. But that can wait until after sundown when the day changes.

Shabbat Shalom, all.

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Meditation for the Third Day of the Days of Awe

Feathers to the Wind

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Meditation for the Second Day of the Days of Awe

Pursuing Righteousness

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September 26, 2014 · 12:01 am

Last post for the New Year – for now.

After the spiritual helicopter, I got myself back together just in time to notice that the Torah reading was going to be split up among several people – people chanting the Hebrew, and then people reading the English translation. I also noticed that there were different siddurim in the sanctuary than our usual weekly siddurim – older, and not nearly as much transliteration available. I stumbled through the Hebrew after the second person started chanting – much faster than I was ready for.

But the interesting thing is that the rabbi called for aliyah in a way that I don’t know if anyone expected. He said “if you have helped the hungry this past year, in any way at all – from working in a food bank or at a food kitchen to helping someone hungry eat in some other way, please rise.”

So I did, because I have. When I see a homeless person asking for money, I try to help them get at least enough food for a meal. It’s a thing I’ve always done. Then he had everyone standing – including me – chant the blessing on the Torah. In response to the rabbi’s call: Barchu et Adonai ham’vorach, we then all sang:

Baruch atah Adonai hamvorach le’olam va’ed. Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melech ha-olam, asher bachar banu mikol ha-amim, v’natan lanu et Torato. Baruch atah Adonai, notein ha-Torah.

Then the chanter read the first part of the parshah – the story of Abraham and Isaac and the burnt offering that wasn’t – and then an English translator read it in English. And then those of us who had been called to aliyah were asked to stand again and chant the closing blessing on the Torah:

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melech ha-olam, asher natan lanu Torat emet, v’chayei olam nata b’tocheinu. Baruch atah Adonai, notein ha-Torah.

Then we sat down.

The rabbi called four more groups to aliyah: those who had sat with the dying in the past year, those who were military or law enforcement, those who were doctors and healthcare workers, and those who were therapists and counselors. All of the groups got to say both the opening and closing blessings on the Torah.

The rabbinical student gave the sermon. It was a profound sermon, about how we are reminded that death is something we may have to deal with any moment, and how Jewish tradition makes us face death and the reality of our mortality on a regular basis. Then she followed up with how tzedakah, teshuvah and tefillah are what we should practice to make that knowledge less frightening. I complimented her afterwards – she’s going to make a great rabbi.

Then there were more prayers and songs, the Torah scrolls were carried around so we could all kiss our siddur or our tzitzit and then touch them to the Torah – that was profound – and then more prayers, the redressing of the Torah, the opening of the Ark (that part happened several times during the service, but this one was to put the scrolls away) and a closing song. I had been there for about an hour and twenty minutes because of misreading the time on my ticket, but I was glad to be there. I had several chats with people after, including the young choir member I’d met the night before.

On the whole, it was a good Rosh Hashanah at temple. I made a great dinner when I got home, too.

But the rough part of the High Holy Days is still to come. Yom Kippur is going to be a marathon; today was more like a gentle jog. I hope I am able to see it through the way I want to.

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