Dear TEE community,

As incongruent as it may seem in the midst of summer and a heat wave, this is the time of year rabbis and Ritual Teams begin to think seriously about the High Holidays. This Wednesday, July 8th, is the 17th of Tammuz in the Jewish calendar, a fast day commemorating the breaching of Jerusalem’s walls by the Babylonian and Roman forces who each, in turn, destroyed the city and the Temple. It begins a period called the Three Weeks, traditionally a time of mourning leading up to Tisha b’Av / The Ninth of Av, another fast marking the destruction of both the First and Second Temples.

Connecting Tisha b’Av to Rosh Hashanah is the custom of the Haftarot of Consulation, seven special prophetic passages read in the weeks between the two observances. But, beginning with the 17th of Tammuz, there is a deeper connection between the the destruction remembered in the summer and the themes of the High Holidays, which I learned from a remarkable colleague, Rabbi Alan Lew. The central task of the holidays, teshuvah (“returning”), involves a profound honesty which requires us to break down the defensive walls of denial within ourselves. Thus, the observance marking the fall of Jerusalem’s defenses is a signal for us to begin the process of bringing down our internal barriers to spiritual growth.

I learned this insight and many others from reading Rabbi Lew’s book, This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation. It is a text I come back to each summer as I begin my own preparations for the fall holidays and one I frequently encourage others to read. This year, I am inviting all of you to read and discuss it with me for the next Rabbi’s Book Club on Sunday August 23rd.

As the Temple leadership begins to plan for the High Holidays we would like to see the restrictions of the pandemic as an opportunity for innovation. For example, the Torah focused part of our services might include options for discussion and related study in addition to our traditional Torah service. Rather than having a single, long service we might offer several one hour sessions over the course of the day. If you have ideas about what might be different or the same this year, please do let us know. You can contact me or Denise Lippa, our Ritual Chair, with your thoughts.

Meanwhile, I hope all of you are finding ways to enjoy this summer season and are taking care of yourselves.

Be well / Zei gesunt / Sano,

Rabbi Drorah Setel