Dear Members and Friends of Kol HaNeshamah,

L’shanah tovah! It is hard to believe that Rosh Hashanah is now less than one week away. I know how stressful it is for everyone that the holidays fall so early in our secular calendar this year, particularly for those with younger children who are busy getting them ready for the beginning of school (and dealing with the possibility of a teachers’ strike!).

Before we enter into this High Holy Day period, I would like to share a few thoughts, to help everyone prepare.

Our High Holy Day sub-committee has been hard at work thinking about and reflecting on how we can make our HHD services/experience more meaningful and spiritually uplifting. We have decided to make some changes this year, because we are ever-searching to find ways to make prayer, and Judaism, more relevant and more meaningful. Many other Jewish communities around the country, indeed the world, are also attempting to do this. I am so proud that Kol HaNeshamah is willing to experiment and stretch, while at the same time try to honor the integrity of our sacred tradition. All of what we do is done “L’sheym Shamayim”-for the sake of Heaven, for the sake of Something Greater.

Toward that end, we will be incorporating some new elements into our services.

First, we’ve planned an opening for each service that will last one half hour. This is not separate from the service; it is a part of it, and replaces our usual time to “turn-to-your neighbor and greet each other.” It is intended to help all of us, as a community, make the transition from a “chol” (everyday/ordinary time) state-of mind to a “kodesh” (sacred time) state-of-mind. We know that often people come rushing in from wherever they are, and jump right into praying and trying to open their hearts to do the important and often difficult work of teshuvah. Our hope was to create a short period of transition, where we can greet one another, and better focus ourselves for these Yamim Noraim, these Days of Awe.

Again, these half hour periods are not meant to be for only those who choose to participate; they are meant to be for everyone.   We ask that you bring an object or item that symbolizes your hopes for the New Year; we will have some additional items there. Or, if you prefer, you can write your hopes on a piece of paper, or just do so quietly in your own thoughts. You can also choose not to participate. We will start Rosh Hashanah evening at 7:00 p.m.; please plan to arrive on time, so that you join us in this important time of connection and transition.

Once again, we will be including poetry as part of our services.  Please go to our website, here to learn more about how we hope incorporate it and other forms of creative expression during our services.

I know that for many, change is difficult, and even scary. Some like things to always be exactly the same, for there is comfort in familiarity. Others, however, believe that since Jewish prayer and ritual has evolved over the centuries, so too our observance should reflect that evolution and integration of new ideas and new approaches. We believe we have created a good balance between the new and the familiar. We know that some will like the innovations, and others will not.

Therefore, I want to remind all of us, as I remind all of our b’nai mitzvah students, that our services are not performances; they are prayer. The songs that you will be singing are all prayers. Our prayers as well as the divre Torah and the Jewish Journeys that you will hear are all examples of avodah she’ba’lev: offerings of the heart. In other words, they are all offered with the hope that they will somehow help us do the important work of inner reflection which Jewish Tradition guides us to do at this time. We hope that they will help us, individually and as a community, welcome in the New Year and begin the cycle all over again.

I hope, therefore, that you will also receive them with an open heart and an open mind.

I look forward to sharing these holy days with you. May we all be blessed with a sweet and healthy New Year.

L’shanah tovah,

Rabbi Zari Weiss