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E-Newsletter - Elul/Rosh Hashanah
September 06, 2014

Elul 5775

Time to prepare for the High Holiday season! All proceeds from the sale of iTunes downloads or High Holiday CD’s between now and Yom Kippur will be donated to Free The Slaves in memory of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi.

In This Issue:

High Holiday Preparation - A message from Rabbi Debra

Holiday Resources - Tools to make the holidays more powerful for you

Craig’s Corner - Notes from the rebbetzin

Tell us your story

High Holiday Preparation

Dear Friends,

“High Holiday Preparation” means at least three different things.

The other day, I was talking to an acquaintance who commented, “You must be very busy this time of year.” Then she added, “All that cooking and baking for Rosh Hashanah! Every year, I think of making the roast early and freezing it, but I never do.”

She’s right, of course. If you host family and friends, you need to prepare the food, the décor, the room for guests, etc.

But that is not where my mind goes at this time of year.

To me, “High Holiday Prep” calls to mind the accounting of the soul that takes place during Elul. It refers both to private reflection and to the conversations we have with people we care about. The one leads to the other, and the two together make genuine renewal possible in the New Year.

My protective mother expressed dismay that I am teaching an Adult Education class at my synagogue before the High Holidays, at a time of year when there is so much to do. But the class on Peace Amidst Turmoil has to happen before High Holidays, because it is part of our communal High Holiday preparation. has a great many downloadable materials – most free and some for a fee – to help with “High Holiday preparation” in this sense. Read and print out the essays, readings, meditations, and quotations on our Holidays page. Please listen to the CD's or iTunes downloads.

And… there is a third meaning to “High Holiday Prep” for rabbis, cantors, Jewish educators, and lay leaders. Every person needs to be prepared both materially (the roast) and spiritually (the repentance). But there is another layer and wrinkle added when you need to support the community, as well.

If you are teaching or speaking this High Holiday season, then you need inspiration and chomer l’drush (material to “jump off of”). Craig and I designed the CD’s and handouts to serve that function. If you have a leadership role this year, I hope that you will use and enjoy the CD’s – first, for your own preparation and then to help you craft your communal contribution.

Preparation of one kind, in my experience, can lead into another. As I make the matzah balls, a good sermon idea comes. Researching that sermon, a phrase I read prompts me to do personal teshuvah. But usually, mostly, it is my own private accounting of the soul that best prepares me to lead services – and to sit around the Holiday table with my loved ones.

Of course, no matter what we do, we may always feel a bit under-prepared. How can you do enough to face God on the Day of Judgment? To hold the energy of an entire community? To say, “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” to the people closest to you? But somehow, through the alchemy of the Season, the preparations that we make carry us through.

May you enter these High Holidays well-prepared, roast or no roast. Ready or not, here they come…

Holiday Resources - Tools to make the holidays more powerful for you

Browse through all the pages of the website, and pay special attention to the Holidays page, which is full of essays, exercises, quotes and questions that can enhance your readiness to experience The Days of Awe.

All CD's are edited from live recordings of High Holiday services and contain prayer introductions, sermons & meditations for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Craig's Corner, notes from the rebbetzin

So the diet’s been going pretty well. There’ve been a few violations with family get-togethers and other end-of-summer celebrations, but I’m holding steady, still trying to live in that Rosh Hashanah moment I experienced in the spring. I can smile at the progress I’ve made: the pants I’m now swimming in, the skinny jeans I can now get back into without a struggle. And yet, when a grateful client handed me a decorated box of elegant European chocolates as a “thank you,” I knew that I was going to need to redouble my discipline (four chocolates in). I’ve made some steps forward, but to prop up that eruv and stay pure of heart, I need something more. I need the real Rosh Hashanah.

Sometimes I sit in shul, and my inner cry of tefilah rings hollow because I don’t even know in what direction I want to go. What would that transformation look like if it were to occur? And that’s the problem: I’m asking too much from that moment. I didn’t prepare. The cake went into the oven without pre-heating. No wonder it fell as soon as it came out. This powerful, communal moment of transformation is coming, but to make use of it, you need preparation, a plan, the start of a vision. And that’s what this time of Elul is for.

We’re blowing the shofar in the mornings now, the kids and I – flexing our lips, getting to know the shape of the mouthpiece again. It’s a mechanical practice, but when the sound rings out, it’s a spiritual moment. I think of the millennia that our people have been blowing these blasts. I feel part of something great and enduring in these moments. I’m heartened that our traditions do have meaning and power – if we allow them to. In whatever transformation, improvement, or repair you wish for yourself this year, join me in the next few weeks in preparing, in imagining what the next steps could look like for you. Hear that blast, see that future . . . put down that chocolate.

Tell us your story

While on a road trip one summer, my husband and I were spiritually energized while listened to Rabbi Debra's inspirational CD, "Transformation Now," as well as to her priceless recordings of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi teaching and praying with her on the Days of Awe. It was such a great way to prepare our hearts for the New Year. As a rabbi, I got sparks of original and creative ideas to share with my congregation; but even more, listening really put me in the mood of the season myself. After we listened, I passed the CD on to a friend who I know is a spiritual seeker.

With song, prayer, teachings, and meditations these audios can be incorporated into your daily routine while exercising or commuting, or become part of your daily or seasonal spiritual practice. I highly recommend them to anyone who is on a spiritual path or just wants to live an authentic life.

Rabbi Julie Hilton Danan
Chico, California

We love hearing from you and are always grateful for your feedback. Write to us with your story of transformation, your goals for the new year, and any experiences or insights you have had with our website or audio teachings. Click here to share your story.

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