26 Elul 5773
By Sarah Schweitz
The High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are called Days of Awe. The Jewish Religious year draws to a close as Autumn approaches. The month of Elul, a time of Teshuvah (Turning and Repentance). To make Teshuvah an individual turns inward for self examination, exploration and a return to God. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the holiest days in the Jewish year.
Rosh Hashanah is called “Head of the Year”, Yom-Ha-Zikaron, the Day of Remembrance, Yom-Ha-Teruah- The day of the Shofar Blast.
During Rosh Hashanah I am flooded with memories. I remember my parents and family in Greece. The preparations, the cleaning of our home, and new clothes were purchased. Guests arrived for the holidays from out of town. The aroma from the kitchen was intoxicating. Mother nature has a spectacular colorful show for all of us. The trees are changing from green to gold to orange to yellow. The days are getting shorter. The fruits are ripe and ready for harvest, as we are invited to enjoy the bounty that God has given us. Change is everywhere. The Temple, the Torah mantles are changed to pure white and the Rabbi and Cantor wear their white robes, the color of purity. The melodies and prayers are unique to the Days of Awe. There is a High Holiday melody that runs through both services of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
The most inspiring moment in the liturgy of Rosh Hashanah is the “Unetaneh-Tokef” – Let us relate the power of this day. This tenth century religious prayer recounts the judgement of God as we pass before the Divine Throne. “Who shall live and Who shall die.” On Rosh-Hashanah and Yom-Kippur we ask God for mercy. The “Avinu Malkeinu-Our Father Our King” is chanted.
Yom Kippur the Day of Atonement, also called Shabbat Shabbaton the Sabbath of Sabbaths. It is a fast day to clean our souls from sin. On Erev Yom Kippur we sing the Kol Nidre-All vows. We pray all day fasting till sundown and we sing the Ne’ilah-concluding prayer. We ask God to open the Doors of Heaven for us.
I remember my parents who showed me the beauty of our traditions during difficult times. They instilled in me that People are good at heart, and that God is near and will save us when all hope was gone. I remember the Righteous Gentiles both in the city and the remote villages of Greece. They shared with us whatever they had, complete strangers helping a Jewish family in time of extreme fear and imminent death. I remember with humility gratitude and abundant Thanksgiving to our God. I remember my primary teachers who taught me love of learning and respect for others. I remember my Professors at Ohio State, who were so kind to me a seventeen year old with no language skills but a great desire to learn. Their kindness and encouragement were a blessing to me. I remember my classmates in different labs, who were so helpful to me, a student who was in Awe inside a sophisticated laboratory coming from a country destroyed and devastated by war and Personal Loss.
These I remember well during the year and especially during the High Holidays. May your memories be bright, and may the New Year be Healthy, Sweet, and filled with Shalom.
Sarah B. Schweitz