Tag: Yom Kippur

How a Whole Congregation Wrote its Rabbi’s Yom Kippur Sermon

The Genesis of a Social Sermon

Utilizing a process called the Social Sermon, I developed my Yom Kippur morning sermon this year in partnership with Facebook Friends, TED talkers and a group of insightful congregants. To be blunt, this year, the whole Congregation Or Ami wrote its rabbi’s Yom Kippur sermon.

Where Great Sermon Ideas Come From
Rabbis explore sermon ideas from within the Machzor (prayerbook) and Torah, through conference calls organized by Jewish non-profit organizations, and at sermon seminars run by local Boards of Rabbis. Ideas are generated from Jewish text study, current events, issues in the public sphere, bestselling books, and powerful movies. Some clergy ask friends, colleagues, congregants for ideas. Deciding upon topics and themes for High Holy Day (HHD) sermons can be a multi-month process. The social sermon encourages rabbis to engage the congregants (and other contacts in the social media sphere) in the process of exploring the topic and teasing out important themes.

Fleshing out a Topic
Over the summer, as our community struggled to deal with illnesses and deaths of beloved congregants, I knew it was time again to explore Unetaneh Tokef, the haunting HHD prayer most remembered for its opening lines: On Rosh Hashana it is written and on Yom Kippur it is Sealed… Who shall live and who shall die. I read this text as a cosmic wake up call: God reminds us that “stuff” happens. Unetaneh Tokef forces us to face this reality and to decide: how are YOU going to deal with it?

The prayer offers three responses to the severity of life’s decree of misfortune, pain and death. We may reach around (teshuva or repentance – by fixing our relationships with those around us), reach inward (t’filah or prayer – by finding our center and the truth within), and reach up (tzedakah or charitable giving – by lifting up others we lift ourselves).

But how did this play out in real life? What lessons do people learn from enduring the hardships or challenges that life throws out way?

Facebook Friends Chime In
For assistance, I turned to Facebook (and Twitter) where my personal and congregational pages yielded some poignant answers to the question, What did you learn from going through hardship or challenge? Responses poured in from all around the congregation and around the country. The question struck a few heart strings as people posted publicly and some privately about the tsuris (problems) in their lives. Face-to-face conversations with other community members elicited many significant lessons learned. From these responses, as well as those from people I spoke with over the course of a few months, three categories of hardship rose up as being particularly challenging: financial ruin, turmoil from dealing with children with special needs, and horrible medical diagnoses.

TED Talks Provide Inspiration
Around that time, I was watching some TED Talks and became inspired by the stories I heard. About people in challenging situations, who found meaning and purpose nonetheless. The most moving sermons include powerful personal stories to illustrate the central message. It occurred to me that rather than my telling those inspiring stories, I would ask a few congregants to tell their own stories. After all, High Holy Day services offer just the forum for Jewish TED Talks. Thus was a sermon born.

I invited three congregants reflect on what they learned personal through their personal challenge. Their initial drafts were poignant. Each participant had learned powerful lessons on how to overcome the “stuff” of life on which Unetaneh Tokef focuses. Guiding the speakers to understand how their experiences embodied teachings similar to those in Unetaneh Tokef, I worked with them to weave references into their sermonette.

Simultaneously, I crafted a short introduction – utilizing a sledgehammer, if you believe it – to sharply make the point that Unetaneh Tokef comes as a Divine wake-up call. Like a sledgehammer, Unetaneh Tokef comes to break down the walls of naivety and denial that keep us from accepting a simple truth: that between this year and next, so many will live but many will die. Some will experience success; others failure. So many will encounter the unpredictability and pain of life. We are left to discover how do we keep ourselves from becoming angry, embittered, and crotchety, from giving up?

Congregants Tell their Own Stories
At different points in the service, these congregants and our President shared their stories:

Their presentations were poignant. Worshippers sat at the edge of their seats, listening in silence. Certain moments were unforgettable: When Eric and Jill Epstein spoke just after their 14 year old son Ethan led the congregation in prayer. When Mike Moxness was moved to tears as he recalled the overwhelming mix of sadness and gratitude. When Congregation Or Ami President Hedi Gross, in the traditional end-of-service Presidential sermonette, recounted her Jewish spiritual journey, including their struggle with fertility issues, unexpectedly reemphasizing the theme of the sermon and service.

Suffice it to say, the responses to the Jewish-TED-talk/HHD-social-sermon touched and moved so many worshippers.

What Lessons were Learned?

  1. Social Sermons Work: A number of worshippers later described the Facebook discussion on Facebook as a meaningful way to get them to prepare for the Holy Days. Others reflected on the Facebook discussion as an inviting way of previewing am upcoming sermon theme.
  2. Jewish TED Talks Inspire: In comments about the High Holy Days, this multi-speaker sermon topped the list of worshipper kvells (positive comments). Unanimously, post-service comments called the congregant presentations inspiring, powerful, very real, and intensely thought-provoking.
  3. Rabbinic Tzimtzum Fosters Deep Reflection: As clergy “pull back” from their up front role as sermonizer to work in partnership with congregants to craft a Jewish teaching, the message becomes that much more influential. In an increasingly DIY (Do It Yourself) Jewish world, involving other Jews in the teaching/preaching/liturgy leading roles cements their relationships to the community, the synagogue and the rabbi.
  4. Weaving in New Technologies and Methods Animate CommunitiesDarim Online and The Convenant Foundation introduced me to the Social Sermon. TED Talks inspired me to invite congregants to speak. Just Congregations of the Union for Reform Congregations taught me about listening campaigns. eJewish Philanthropy constantly pushes me to explore new perspectives and methods. Visual T’filah of the Central Conference of American Rabbis propelled me to rethink the entire worship experience. Finally, Rabbi Eugene Borowitz’s 1973 essay, Tzimtzum: A Mystic Model for Contem­porary Leadership, has long goaded my rabbinic style to pull back to invite others in.

What’s next? Already, congregants are wondering which congregant speakers will elucidate which themes next year.  And so am I!

But I do not expect to wait until the High Holy Days to invite my congregation to write my next sermon!

Lessons Learned from Living Through Challenge #2, by Eric and Jill Epstein

On Yom Kippur, three Congregation Or Ami members shared sermonettes throughout the service on Lessons They Learned Living Through Hardship. These Jewish TED Talk/Yom Kippur Social Sermons were each moving individually and very inspiring as a whole. Read about How a Whole Congregation Wrote its Rabbi’s Yom Kippur Sermon.


Lessons Learned from Living Through Challenge  
by Eric and Jill Epstein

It is often said that God will not give you more than you can handle. When our third child Ethan was born, he must have wondered if God was right and whether he was up for the challenge of truly enlightening us.

Challenge is a relative and dynamic term. One person’s challenge is another’s day-to-day existence. Our son Ethan is within the Autism Spectrum. Just uttering those words – Autism Spectrum – used to be a challenge for us. Now, we laugh at the label, as Ethan is so social and happy defying customary views of such a diagnosis. The truth is that the only spectrum we deal with these days is the spectrum of goals we have been blessed to look forward to accomplishing.

Jill, Ethan and Eric Epstein
When Ethan Became a Bar Mitzvah

We used to wonder if Ethan would ever speak, and now we have to hold him back from pushing Rabbi Paul aside at the bimah. Congregation Or Ami has become such an important place for Ethan for many reasons. When our first son, Andrew, became Bar Mitzvah, we were so worried that Ethan might distract from the services that he was sequestered to the sound-proof kids’ room. Ethan would have none of that, as he grabbed a prayer book and took part in the services on the bimah with a quiet calm we had not seen previously.

Seven years later, Ethan was leading services at his own Bar Mitzvah service with that quiet calm we had become accustomed to. Although Rabbi Paul, Cantor Doug and Diane Townsend were prepared to modify the service as needed, Ethan would have none of that and participated as fully as another other Or Ami student. Gazing out to a crowd of friends and family, Ethan unrehearsed exclaimed, “This is my moment!”

Of course, tackling Ethan’s special needs is a team sport. That “moment” didn’t happen without a team of teachers, educational therapists, speech therapists, and behavioral therapists to challenge his short-comings head-on and who stood proudly with Ethan for a very special Aliyah. These challenges merely amplify his accomplishments.

Former Or Ami President Michael Kaplan swears that Ethan will be President of Congregation Or Ami someday. Such a statement seems as challenging as his Bar Mitzvah service was seven years ago. Why not set this as his next goal? We have learned that you hit what you aim for, and if you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time. Isn’t that a lesson of the Unetaneh Tokef prayer? That life will necessarily throw challenges our way. Our job is to reach out and find ways of finding goodness and blessing nonetheless.

For Ethan, he seems to have a special companion on this unlikely and challenging course of life that draws him to services on many a Friday evening. When Rabbi Paul once asked him in front of the Congregation what draws him to Temple. In a sentence that was simultaneously simple and yet complicated, Ethan answered, “I feel close to God.”

And we have no doubt that God is particularly close to him too.

G’mar Chatimah Tova. May you be sealed for a blessing in the Book of Life.

Listen to Eric and Jill Epstein’s Sermonette (at 00:33:40). 

Lessons Learned from Living Through Hardship #1, by David Sackman

On Yom Kippur, three Congregation Or Ami members shared sermonettes throughout the service on Lessons They Learned Living Through Hardship. These Jewish TED Talk/Yom Kippur Social Sermons were each moving individually and very inspiring as a whole. Read about How a Whole Congregation Wrote its Rabbi’s Yom Kippur Sermon

Lessons Learned from Living Through Hardship 
by David Sackman

The Unetaneh Tokef prayer talks about the struggles of life. As Rabbi Kipnes calls it, it is the “stuff happens” prayer. This is the part of Yom Kippur that I really enjoy if that’s ok to say … it’s the time to really reflect on yourself, your beliefs, and your actions.

As I reflect on this, I have realized for quite some time that it is not one’s ability to thrive during good times that make the person, but one’s ability to survive — and learn from — life’s toughest moments. Furthermore, one never knows what’s really the good and what’s really the bad. Do you think that Bill Gates’ parents were excited when 20-year old Bill told them that he was dropping out of Harvard to start his own company? Two similar phrases — “We’ll see” and “More shall be revealed” — have guided my reactions to life’s events — both good and bad — for a number of years now.

David Sackman

Because of some business and material success, I have heard some people say that I have a charmed life. What they may not be aware of are the many life’s challenges – hard times – that I have endured to learn the life’s lessons that have allowed me to have this so-called charmed life. It is, in fact, the challenging times that I think of first when I think about what has allowed me to be the man that I am.

As a child, I grew up without much money. I recall my parents actually alternating nights that they ate dinner, as there wasn’t enough money for adequate food. I recall one Chanukah with my mother crying because she couldn’t even buy small gifts for us that year.

We’ve experienced several serious health situations over the years, each quite scary, but from which we recovered. I wish I could share them with you, but they are just too private for this broad an audience.

While I’ve experienced some business success, I’ve also failed in four businesses. For one of the earlier businesses, I had borrowed a large amount of money. When it failed, I was devastated, having no idea how I would repay the money that I borrowed or properly provide for my family.

While I was going through one of these particularly tough times, a new friend said to me, “You know, Dave, this is actually a gift.” At the time, I couldn’t fathom what he was saying. But since, I’ve come to understand completely.

I have learned that each of life’s challenges – hardships as might be a more direct way of putting it – give us an opportunity to learn things that we otherwise wouldn’t learn, develop new skills, and, most of all, appreciate life for all that it is. As a result of the hardships that life has given me, I’ve developed traits and skills that I probably never would have developed without these very tough experiences — tenacity, resilience, better interpersonal skills, better leadership skills, a better ability to negotiate and compromise, a keen ability to problem solve, a more true understanding of love, and an abundance of gratitude.

Life is great. But it is fragile. And it must be cherished. As the Unetaneh Tokef prayer teaches us, we will all be faced with challenging times and joyful times. Some of the challenging times seem so unfair … whether it’s dealing with life threatening cancer, a teen’s life threatening battle with drugs and alcohol, a long period of time out of work … you get the idea … we must learn to take it all in, recognizing that this is, in fact, a gift of life’s lessons – hard as they are – that, ultimately, teach us what we need to learn and take us to the life that we all deserve.

G’mar Chatimah Tova. May you be sealed for a blessing in the Book of Life.

Listen to David Sackman’s Sermonette (at 00:22:09). 

Lessons Learned from Living Through Hardship #3, by Mike Moxness with Debbie Echt-Moxness

On Yom Kippur, three Congregation Or Ami members shared sermonettes throughout the service on Lessons They Learned Living Through Hardship. These Jewish TED Talk/Yom Kippur Social Sermons were each moving individually and very inspiring as a whole. Read about How a Whole Congregation Wrote its Rabbi’s Yom Kippur Sermon.


Lessons Learned from Living Through Life’s Challenges  
by Mike Moxness with Debbie Echt-Moxness

Just over a year ago, I was diagnosed with metastatic stage 4 colon cancer. I suffered through a period of being very ill and it didn’t seem likely that I would be standing here today. Thanks to some effective medicines, I was able to get back on my feet and start living again. I’m not out of danger, but I’m experiencing the joy of life again. However, it wasn’t just the drugs that put me on this path, to make me whole, I frequently meditated on the love and support of family and friends.

Aaron, Mike, Molly and Debi
The Moxness Family

Being raised as a stoic Norwegian (similar to the characters from Lake Wobegon), it was difficult for me to ask for help. Many of you brought us dinners, transported our kids and provided emotional support during those dark days. I am so appreciative of everyone who came to our aid, without being asked.

Given the chance to live again is an awesome responsibility. I took the opportunity to discover what makes me happy and let go of those things that don’t. We all have a limited time on this earth and nobody knows how many moments are really left. That’s the lesson of the Unetaneh Tokef prayer – each year, some will live and some will die. So, every day, I ask myself what will bring me joy at this moment. Experiencing the beauty of the world and being with friends are usually are my first choices. I also tried to stop worrying about the future, what others thought about me and striving to get ahead. Without those worries, an amazing thing happened: I started to enjoy my work and to be more productive while spending less time at the office and more time at home.

This perspective is liberating and I wish I could teach it to everyone. It is not easy. The dark thoughts are always looming on the edge and sometimes they seep into my consciousness. Yet being open and honest about my disease has been the most effective at keeping me out of depression.

I have also learned that being engaged in a community like Congregation Or Ami has been particularly helpful to my recovery. Two of the most profound experiences of the past year have occurred at Or Ami. Last April, my 16 year old son Aaron articulated his interpretation of the Mi Shebeirach healing prayer at a teen-led Friday night service. I felt vulnerable but was comforted by the warmth of my community. This past August 3rd, my daughter Molly became a Bat Mitzvah. All of my loved ones were there to celebrate Molly and the life that our family has been able to live over the past year. I exist with a scary reality, but I have learned to let it guide me through a fulfilling life.

Yom Kippur reminds us that everyone will eventually die, we just don’t know when. My advice to you is this: Don’t wait for the life-changing event, try to change your life now.

G’mar Chatimah Tova. May you be sealed for a blessing in the Book of Life.

Listen to Mike Moxness’ Sermonette (at 00:49:49). 

High Holy Day Homework

So you went to Rosh Hashana services (or not), and you plan to go to Yom Kippur services (or not). Maybe you say a few prayers, listen intently to the rabbi’s sermon, allow the cantor’s music to suffuse your soul.  Have you fulfilled your High Holy Day responsibilities? Can you check off this week’s To Do list – “Get into the metaphoric Book of Life”?
Sorry, that’s not really how it works. The High Holy Days are about doing the work, spiritual work. Called Teshuva or repentance, this High Holy Day work requires that we prepare before, work during, and follow up after these awesome Jewish days.
To make it easier, I have for you a High Holy Day Homework sheet. It is self-explanatory. It is surprisingly simple to fill out. Once you complete the form, you just need to follow up – by seeking out those you have wronged, and starting the process of repair. 
Sure, the process can be much more complicated, but you might use this worksheet to get you going. Luckily it is self-graded by you (well, many believe God will be the ultimate judge too, but that depends on your theology). 
Good luck, and let me know how it goes.

To Fast or Not to Fast… Think about This

Yom Kippur, unique among the Jewish holy days, lacks its own culinary customs. Aside from the break-the-fast, which though historically was done without fanfare but now might even be catered affairs, Yom Kippur is the only major holy day not tied to food. Jews fast for the 25 hours.  At least most Jews do.

Should you fast?  Why bother? What is the meaning of the fast?

It is about Getting into the Fast Lane 
for a More Meaningful Holy Day

Michelle and I have noticed that in preparing for visits by my parents, we talk little with my folks about the places they would go or the things they would do. However discussions about food consume inordinate amount of time and attention. What will we eat? Where will we eat? This we talk about. Should we go out to dinner or will Dad cook up one of his gourmet dishes? Before one sumptuous multi-course meal ends, we are caught up discussing what we would eat next. Michelle and I just laugh because this food fetish is played out in similar ways at her family gatherings. Ah, the ties that bind.

Still, as humorous as these discussions are, they border on discomfort. Why are we all so obsessed with food? And why does this obsession seem so Jewish? Just to raise that question is to invite a din of jokes: “What else do Jews do but eat?” We are obsessed as people with food: whether by the minutea of keeping Kosher, or by our passion for the unkosher delights of Chinese food.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, author of Dawn to Earth Judaism, suggests that this focus on food is very Jewish. Nearly every Jewish holiday involves the consumption of food. On Passover, we gather and pray around a dinner table, eating foods to symbolize our exodus to freedom. Shabbat begins with a family sit down dinner and does not conclude until a seudah shleesheet, a third meal before sundown. Hanukkah has its latkes and sufganiot (donuts), Purim has its hamantaschen, and Shavuot has its dairy (or in our tradition, sumptuous cheesecake). We eat to usher the New Year and Rosh HaShana. We eat to end Yom Kippur. In fact, many Jews define themselves in relation to the food they eat. “I keep Kosher”, “I eat treif”. “I’m a bagels and lox Jew.”

Rabbi Arthur Waskow notes that Jews can trace back to our Biblical beginnings. Many cultures have a tale of the first rebellion, the first painful crossover into making a painful history. In some, like the Greek mythic tales, it is an act of murder. Or sex. Or stealing fire. Or creating knowledge. But of all possibilities, what did Jewish culture choose as the symbol for beginning history? Eating. Did the fruit-eating episode from the Garden of Eden myth focus our anxiety about the world on food? Or did the reality of our everyday lives give shape to the myth? We may never know. What we can conform, however, is that behind the jokes we tell today there is a delicious reality of long ago: that food was simultaneously so important and so problematic to the ancient Israelites that they gave it a central place in their culture and that they gave it publicly, clearly, consciously rather than covered and uncovered by jokes. They created what Rabbi Waskow calls “a sacred history of food”.

Given all this focus on food in Judaism, doesn’t it strike you as ironic that on one of the holiest days of the year, Yom Kippur, we Jews are told to reign in on this natural impulse to eat? Doesn’t it seem preposterous that the people who brought compote to the new world should be expected to fast? Rabbi Harold Kushner, author Why Bad Things Happen to Good People series of books, jokes that if the message of the free market economy is that there is no free lunch. the message of Yom Kippur is that there is no lunch.

Why do we fast on Yom Kippur? I suspect that many of us, those who will observe the day-long fast on Yom Kippur and those who will excuse themselves from it, misunderstand the reasons. We don’t fast to make up for all the self-indulgence we permit ourselves during the rest of the year. If that were the reason, we would have to fast for much more than one day to do that. And we don’t fast so that God will see our discomfort and feel pity for us and grant our prayers. This was the mistaken understanding of the people who confronted the prophet Isaiah in the Yom Kippur Haftarah portion, who said “What’s the matter with God? We’ve fasted all day, we’ve bowed our heads like a tree in a storm, we’ve made ourselves miserable. Why hasn’t God answered our prayers?” When you think of all the people who are really suffering in the world, who are starving and dying, how could it ever have occurred to us that God should have to make something up to us because we’ve skipped lunch? No, the purpose of our fasting is not to send a message to God, but to deliver a message to ourselves.

Rabbi Harold Kushner suggests that fasting exercises our soul. Let me explain. The relevant passage in the Torah says v’initem et nafshoteichem, which in the 16th century King James Bible translation was rendered “you shall afflict your souls.” That is, we fast to make ourselves suffer because that’s what we deserve. That may have been the theological outlook of 16th century England, but I’m not sure that was what the Torah had in mind. Modern scholars take the words v’initem et nafshoteichem to mean “you shall restrain your instincts, you shall practice self-control.”

We are asked to fast on Yom Kippur not to afflict ourselves but to glory in the fact that we are human. We can do what no other living creature on the face of God’s earth can do; we can say No to instinct. We can be hungry, but we choose not to eat. We can be angry, but we do not strike out. We can be sexually attracted but we restrain ourselves. No other species can do that.

When you think about it, how much of the suffering in today’s world is caused by people who cannot say “No” to instinct? The man or woman who eats too much or drinks too much or takes drugs, and hates him or herself for it. The person who is hurt or angry, and just wants to go out and hurt somebody to get even. The basically honest person who has access to other people’s money and cannot resist taking some of it for him or herself. And when these people try to excuse themselves by saying “what do you want from me; I’m only human,” Judaism’s answer is “to be human means precisely to be able to say No to temptation, to instinctual drives.” Human nature is different from Nature. In the world of Nature, if you’re hungry, you eat. If you’re sexually aroused, you mate. If you’re stronger, you take what you want. But in the world of human nature, you control your instincts, they don’t control you. That is why the Jewish religion is so supportive of 12-step programs. People in need turn to God for help controlling their natural instincts.

You might think of it this way: there may come a time in your life when your future happiness will depend on being able to say No to something very tempting. It may be a shady business deal; it may be an illicit sexual involvement. Whatever it is, you will know that it is wrong but it will be very tempting. If all your life, you have had no experience saying No to temptation, if all you life you have been told that if you want something, you can have it, what are the odds you will get it right now when so much is riding it? But if your experience as a Jew has been a whole series of moral calisthenics, exercises in overriding instinct, what does that do to your chances of getting it right? So we jump into the fast lane, we fast on Yom Kippur, to teach ourselves that we can do it, that it is not that hard to say No to instinct and to learn that “I am human” is not a confession of weakness but an affirmation of real strength.

A second reason to fast involves death and rejoicing. A paradox, no? People ask me how I am able to officiate at funerals regularly without becoming depressed. I answer that I am terribly saddened by the loss of life, even in cases when I did not know the deceased. In fact, I often shed tears when the circumstances of death hit close to home. Yet I have found that the responsibility of ushering others though the valley of the shadow of death yields an unintended, joyous benefit. It constantly reminds me about how precious life and love ones are. After every funeral I try to clear the air with those whom I am in conflict and I make a point to say “I love you” to my family and friends. So paradoxically funerals help me rejoice at the richness of my life. V’eizeh hu asher? Who is a rich person? asks our tradition? HaSamay-ach b’chelko “The one who is happy with his or her portion.”

Fasting on Yom Kippur, teaches my friend Rabbi Ramie Arian, forces us to confront the reality of our death and to rejoice in God’s forgiveness. Yom Kippur is the day on which we ask ourselves, as it were, “if I were to have died today, how would I measure up? How would I be judged?” Fasting is one of several rituals that help us get into the mindset to face this question, by imaginatively pre-enacting our own deaths. Other Yom Kippur customs — refraining from wearing leather, refraining from shaving or washing and wearing kittel — echo mourning customs. Through fasting, we face our own deaths in order to appreciate our lives and ultimately to make changes necessary so that our lives will become more worthwhile.

The late Rabbi Pinchas Peli, a Jerusalem-based Torah Scholar, observes that while eating, tasting delicious foods, touches us on a personal experimental level, it must not remain a trip of “self purification.” This final reason for fasting is one of the oldest. In the Haftarah portion we read on Yom Kippur, The people ask, “Why should we fast if the Eternal God never notices? Why should we go without food if God pays no attention?”

The prophet Isaiah reminds us that the purpose of the fast is to call on us to fulfill our obligations to society and that the way to get closer to God is by caring for people. “In the Haftarah, God says to them: “The truth is that at the same time you fast, you pursue your own interest, and oppress your workers. Your fasting makes you violent and you quarrel and fight. Do you think this kind of fasting will make me listen to your prayers? When you fast, you make yourselves suffer, you bow your heads low like a blade of grass and spread out sackcloth and ashes to lie on. Is that what you call fasting? Do you think I will be pleased with that?”

The kind of fasting I want is this, God says: Remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice, and let the oppressed go free. Share your food with the hungry and open your homes to the homeless and the poor. Give clothes to those who have nothing to wear and do not turn away from the needs of your own kin.” Fasting is important explains the prophet. But fasting must be accompanied by changes individual and societal behavior for it to have any meaning.

It is Yom Kippur. We gather together for a day of self reflection and renewal. We will search our souls and examine our deeds to assess how we have measured up to all that we could be. Our tradition teaches that this is hard work. Our tradition demands that we make changes. Our tradition offers rituals, including fasting to help us jump start this spiritual quest. On Yom Kippur Jews pray and on Yom Kippur Jews fast. Why not try it? Or try it again? Make Yom Kippur meaningful this year slow down and try to enjoy life in the fast lane.

G’mar Chatima Tova – May you be sealed for a blessing in the Book of Life.

Video: Kindergarteners Show Us How to Begin Teshuva

Saying “I’m Sorry” is not always easy. It can be uncomfortable or downright embarrassing.  Still, we learn from the Talmud that on Yom Kippur, for the ways we have harmed others, the holy day does not atone until we make peace with that other person.

Kindergarten students from Congregation Or Ami’s Mishpacha Family Alternative program, led by Mishpacha Coordinators (HUC students) Sarah Lauing and Lisa Berney, made this video to begin the work of teshuva (repenting our mistakes).  Teshuva never looked cuter!