Climbing Another Mountain

When we switch back from the special white Torah covers to the Shabbat multi-colored covers on Simchat Torah this Sunday at 6pm, it will signal the official conclusion of the High Holy Days season. I’ve never climbed a mountain before, but I would assume that the feeling upon reaching the summit is a lot like putting the last Torah back in the ark to begin the new cycle of temple life.

I’ve been thinking a lot about these last few weeks of the new year. The HHD cycle felt different. Certainly, the celebration of the High Holy Days is never the same twice. Each year is a unique moment in time for us as individuals, as a congregation, and as a people. We’re all travelers, moving through time and space.

This new year is coming in with dark clouds and heavy weather. We obviously never know what will happen from day to day and month to month. But I sense a climate of intense angst, a particular kind of dread I don’t remember ever feeling, not even during the Vietnam era.

We don’t know what the vicissitudes of life will be this year. All we know for sure is that they will be choppy. Or to put it another way: we’re on the roller coaster and we’re listening to the click click click of the mechanism pulling us up the steep slope. It’s dark and we can’t make out when were going to reach that point when we begin to careen down and around.

Is it grammatically correct to say that this new year felt “more unique” then years past? However one phrases it, that’s my feeling. It dawned on me from the beginning of the cycle. Usually, at Erev Rosh Hashanah services, congregational participation is muted. It’s as if people are getting into the groove of the season; the special melodies, the prayers we say only during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur… By Kol Nidre, folks are more attuned to the music and the mood of the season. More people sing with confidence and fervor.

But this year, when we turned and sang Avinu Malkeinu, I was deeply moved by the immediacy of the congregation. People were singing. They were listening. People were profoundly present. Why? I have a theory, based on absolutely no evidence other than my gut feeling and anecdotal evidence from congregants and from rabbis serving other congregations.

I think we realized just how important – how necessary it is – to gather as a community. We know that going it alone is not how to make one’s way into the uncertainty ahead. A year after the Tree of Life murders, we understand the fragility of life as Americans and as American Jews in a new way. We need each other – it’s as simple as that. There was, I think, a kind of urgency in the congregation, borne not out of fear, but rather from the conviction that to “dwell together as brothers and sisters” is more than a hackneyed phrase. It is a raison d’être.

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