For Jews around the world, the High Holidays evoke a unique set of associations. The ten days which are ushered in with the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, culminate with the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.
This ten-day period is an intense time spent in introspection and thus offers the opportunity to focus on existential issues.
The holidays are spent at home with family and friends, as well as in worship in the synagogue. There are customs, traditions and rituals observed in the home which help to reinforce the message and theme of the year. This may include festive meals with blessings and bequests for a sweet year, as reflected in the custom of dipping apples in honey.
In the synagogue, the prayers and liturgy, as well as the messages delivered by rabbis, also help to convey these themes. We celebrate the creation of the world and the opportunity for new beginnings. We acknowledge our shortcomings and the need to correct our failings. Prayer helps allow us to repair our relationship with God and to seek forgiveness for our offenses against the Holy One. Yet, the season also prods us to make amends and to repair human relationships that become frayed. It is a time to heal and ask forgiveness for the wrongs we do others intentionally and unintentionally.
None of this is easy. Yet, when the ten days which are variously referred to as the “Ten Days of Repentance,” the “Days of Awe,” and the “Day of Judgment” come to an end on Yom Kippur with the conclusion of the fast, it is a truly cleansing and exhilarating feeling. The sense of knowing that one is a member of an entire community participating in these rituals heightens the feeling.
Central most in our thoughts and prayers are our wishes for the community, as well as for the world. We pray that it will be a year of peace and that each and every one of us will be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year.