Exterior of Temple Israel Long Beach


Rabbi Fox

A Time to Renew

September 18, 2020

I have two greater hopes for us as we enter the High Holy Days this year. The first is that these High Holy Days feel just like all the others. Just like any other year, there is the same need to renew ourselves. It is natural to drift away from our best selves, like smoke in an open room to drift into the various places that objects and wind guide us to. There’s often a reason for this, we have needs that shift throughout the year and we work to accommodate work and school and family. That is why we have these practices, to allow us a time to stop and refocus, to do the work of teshuvah and return. We know who we are, and we know who we can be when we are at our best, like the ocean we ebb and flow into and out of our highest ideals, our most personal and central desires. Every year, regardless of changes in our world, our life situation and current events, we need this. I think this year we may need that anchor, that reconnection, even more than most years.

My other hope for the High Holy Days is that it is a breath of fresh air. We are not able to provide the exact same experience we are all used to. The ushers will not be standing at the doorway to our sanctuary, the melodies may be familiar but the screens are not. This year parking will not be a problem. Our commute a short distance to the comforatable spaces in our homes. We instead have the opportunity to recreate some of our most meaningful practices in a new mode. We have new ways of practicing this year that I hope will engage us differently. You can look to information and a schedule in this edition of Kol Yisra’el, and more information in the coming weeks about forums and workshops for various ages and interests. We have the opportunity to create new experiences this year for our High Holy Days.

The truth is that it used to be the way all of the time. Before the time of the Temple in Jerusalem, in our tradition we used to do everything at home. A shared meal was a holy offering, literally, and the community was made up of clusters of households that all celebrated in unison but from separate places. Each home a temple to sacred purpose. Over time our practice grew out of our individual homes, but we continued to be inspired by the innovations brought out of that space. We drew liturgy from our moments of awakening and resting for the night and found that while in the individual space we could be creative, in the communal space we could find more meaning. This year we draw back into our homes, and still create a sacred space in them. The old and the new drawn together into an opportunity for us to reach beyond our regular days and create something unique. So this is my invitation for all of us this year. Let us learn from the old and the new, look to the way that we have practiced in the past, and let that help us practice this year. If you enjoy dressing up on the High Holy Days, I invite you to this year. If you have a tallit, place it on your shoulders. If there is someone you always sit next to on the High Holy Days, call them, and stay on the phone together during the online experience. Schmooze with your relatives before and after. Share a meal over Zoom or the phone with your extended family. The synagogue is a place where work and other societal pressures often can’t get to you, so cover your desk this year with a blanket or sheet and set your email and phone to do not disturb.

We read in our liturgy for this holday the interesting set of words where we ask that this moment chadesh yameinu kekedem, literally “renew our days as in the past.” A peculiar juxtaposition of words, we would like our days to have both new and old elements, to look to old practices and find new life in them. This year, we have a unique opportunity to do this, like every other in our people’s history, this year will be different.