Sunday, September 9, 2007

Hear the Shofar, Hear your Heart.

I've never before been to a Selichot (or S'lichot) service. I now understand the importance of such a service, not to mention how peaceful and beautiful it was.

First let me explain what the Selichot service is. As some of you might or might not know, the Jewish High Holy Days (Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur) are fast approaching. The Selichot service is basically a service to prepare us for the holiday season and introduces the themes, prayers, and music of the holidays. It's traditional to have the service late at night after havadalah, typically at midnight. A lot of places have adopted doing it earlier in the evening so more people can attend (ours started with a study at 8:30 p.m., desserts at 9:30 and service at 10 p.m. -- it lasted until about 11:30 P.M.).

The synagogue I go to is quite large. The main sanctuary is set up so that the bimah and ark can be pushed back into a gymnasium-style room that is decked in stained glass (and where we sometimes have services), to add hundreds of more seats for individuals. Now, it's hard to describe what this is like. You definitely have to be there. The ark and bimah are a HUGE piece of construction, and I'm not exactly sure how they do this, but it's absolutely fantastic. The service last night, though, was set off to the side and was set up with chairs off to the sides of the lectern, with the choir behind the lectern, creating a square shape. It was incredibly intimate, and it was dim in the little make-shift sanctuary. The choir comprised only 10 or 12 individuals, but the music was loud and powerful. Our cantor, Aviva Katzman, has one of the most beautiful cantoral voices I've ever heard.

The service was moving. I can't exactly describe the emotions, but I only wish I had attended such services before, as it truly is just enough to prepare one for the service-heavy holy days. The silent meditations interspersed with the reciting the sins and transgressions. I feel prepared enough for the holidays, but I think there's a lot I need to think about. I need to really reflect on the past year and how it has changed me and who I have become.

One of my favorite bits from the service was a quote from Louis Finkelstein: "When I pray, I speak to G-d; and when I study, G-d speaks to me." The gleanings read before and after the changing of the Torah covers from their colorful decor to their High Holy Days white. The night ended with the blowing of the shofar by a man who did the act for his 59th year -- talk about a tradition. I forgot how comforting and beautiful the sound was ... though I do miss the gal who used to do it at my temple back home in Lincoln (it was a teen girl who had some serious pipes on her).

I'm excited and ready for the new year. It means new beginnings, rebirth, and chances to really make something of myself this year in all avenues possible. I want to do more for the community, I want to pursue my goals, and I want to strive to make every day holy. I have resolutions that are worthy of the new Jewish year of 5768. I want to extend my Torah study to include the haftarah portions, as I didn't do that last year. I want to spend more time with the texts and look into Talmud. I want to take those Hebrew classes and being pursuing school. I want to be engulfed and flooded over by learning. And at the same time, I want to review the past year and learn from my transgressions and work toward holiness.


Prior to services, I went to Borders and picked up Chaim Potok's "My name is Asher Levy" and to my luck, "Celebrating the Jewish Holidays" that focuses on the fall holidays! Alas, the latter book was going along swimmingly until I hit a duplicated word about 10 pages in ... and if you know anything about me and my anal retentive editor tendencies, you know that I had to stop reading the book. I'll pick it back up in due time, but things like that are a complete turn off to me and it's probably some kind of OCD tendency that I should have looked at!