Preparing for the High Holidays

by Rabbi Michael Strassfeld and Rabbi Joy Levitt

elul The process of change is a challenging one. The Jewish tradition considered that Rosh ha-Shanah (the New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) didn’t give us enough time to reflect on the past year and engage in teshuva–change or repentance–in preparation for the new year. Therefore the month before the High Holidays, the month of Elul, became the starting point of this engagement with change. The first of Elul this year will be August 16.

At AARC’s Elul Shabbaton (August 14-15), we will begin with a Friday night service. Three weeks before, on the 9th of Av, we hit rock bottom in the annual festival cycle. The fast of Tisha b’Av marks the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem and the spiritual exile of Jews both as a people and as individuals. From that low point of existential aloneness, we move to reconciliation or more simply reconnection to God, to others around us and to ourselves. The rabbis found a hint of this in the name of this month, Elul. The Hebrew letters of Elul are the first letters of the verse Ani le-dodi ve-dodi li–I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine. These words are from Song of Songs, a book of love and connection. Shir ha-Shirim/Song of Songs will be our overarching theme for the Friday night service.

The Shabbaton continues on Shabbat afternoon with a short minha/afternoon service. The Shabbat minha service has as its theme a sense of oneness underlying the universe. We also read a short Torah portion that focuses on a call to pursue justice/tzedek. After all, we are to engage in teshuva/change not just to feel better about ourselves but to engage in making the world a more just and compassionate place.

Following minha, the teens will meet with Joy to help plan children’s programming for Rosh ha-Shanah. Everyone else is invited to study with Michael some Hasidic texts about change/teshuva. Rabbinic Judaism’s attitude toward misdeeds can be summarized by the phrase “just say no.” Hasidism had a more complicated response. It suggested that transformation comes about by accepting the truth about yourself and then striving to change it rather than dwelling on your past failures.

Finally, both of us together will share our own Jewish journeys. It will be an opportunity to get to know us, and for us to get to know you. It will also be an opportunity for people to share pieces of their own spiritual journeys as we as individuals, and as a community, begin preparing for the High Holidays.

Please join us.


Click here for more information about Rabbis Levitt and Strassfeld, who will be leading AARC’s High Holiday services, as well as this Shabbaton.  Rabbi Strassfeld will also return for two other Shabbatonim this year.

All events at the JCC, 2935 Birch Hollow Drive.

  • Friday, August 14: Kabbalat Shabbat service and pot-luck, 6:15 (niggunim), 6:30 (service).  Pizza for the kids at 6:15; childcare is available.  (Let us know if you need pizza and/or childcare)
  • Saturday, August 15:
    • 2 pm: Minha, with Torah service: 2 pm (Molly Kraus-Steinmetz will read Torah)
    • 3 pm: Teens prepare for High Holidays and kids’ service.  Adults study Hasidic teachings about teshuva
    • 4 pm: Jewish Journeys conversation.