Just as nature moves through seasons of activity, dormancy, death, and rebirth, so too does the Jewish calendar flow through an annual cycle of renewal. The Jewish High Holidays are celebrated surrounding the autumnal equinox, marking an important transition.
"After the intense heat and activity of summer, we turn to Fall and begin the return inwards," explains Shir Yaakov Feit, founder of Kol Hai, a Jewish Renewal spiritual community based in New Paltz. "It is a time for introspection—a process of taking account and making new intentions."
The unofficial start to the High Holiday cycle is the month called Elul which runs this year from August 11 through September 9. Elul is an acronym for the Hebrew verse from the Song of Songs, "I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine." The relational quality of this phrase characterizes the theme of the month, Shir Yaakov explains. "The whole month is dedicated to looking at which relationships may need repair. This could be your relationship to God, your partner, your family, the planet, or to yourself." He uses a metaphor to explain this period of self-assessment. "Before the reboot of the High Holidays, we review our past year and ask ourselves, 'What apps do I really want to be running?'"This time of reflection is a preparation for the rebirth signified by Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, and the setting of new intentions. "What we become aware of in Elul, we give name to in Rosh Hashanah," Shir Yaakov says.
The two-day festival of Rosh Hashanah is a celebratory, transcendent time. At Kol Hai, the services the first evening and following morning are filled with music, Torah readings, meditation and poetry. On the second day, the community heads into nature to hear the call of the shofar—the ram's horn, which is blasted 100 times. "The shofar is a prayer without words. It calls our souls to wake to something deeper even than language," Shir Yaakov says. "We are trying to bring new life into the world, new justice, new peace."
Following the celebration of Rosh Hashanah is the holiest day of the Jewish calendar—Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is often called the "day of atonement," though Shir Yaakov prefers to refer to it as the "day of at-one-ment," when people connect with an unblemished spiritual energy. "We recognize the gift of soul, and connect with the part of us that has always been part of the divine and always will be."
In keeping with Kol Hai's tradition of music-filled, joyful community services, the atmosphere during Yom Kippur is one of forgiveness, compassion, and rejuvenation.
After the cleansing and rebirth of the High Holidays comes Sukkot, a weeklong full moon harvest celebration, in which temporary leafy structures open to the sky are built outside. "We share meals and song and celebrate. The structure is a creche, a cradle, to protect us in our newborn state. We celebrate the fragility and mystery of new life," Shir Yaakov says.
KOL HAI HIGH HOLIDAYS 2018
High Meadow School
3643 Main Street, Stone Ridge, NY 12484
Sunday, September 9th, 6:30pm
Monday, September 10th, 9:30am
Tuesday, September 11th, Hike (time and location TBA)
Saturday, September 15th, Morning Altars Workshop with Day Schildkret. Register for the address.
Tuesday, September 18th, 6:30pm
Wednesday, September 19th, 9:30am
Sunday, September 23rd, Sukkah Building followed by celebration and potluck at a private residence. RSVP for the address.
Visit the Kol Hai website for details.