Meaningful High Holiday Services?
I know we don't confess to rabbis, but I have a confession! Even if I can read some of the prayers on Rosh Hashanah, I still don't understand what I'm saying. Honestly I'd rather take a quiet, reflective walk in the park on Rosh Hashanah than spend all those hours in synagogue saying a bunch of words that don't mean a whole lot to me anyway. Do you have any suggestions?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
I'm quite confident that your words echo the sentiments of many. The prayers are meant to be a powerful, relevant and meaningful experience. Sadly, our distance from the original Hebrew, coupled with a lengthy synagogue service, can be intimidating and often a tremendous letdown for individuals seeking a spiritual experience. In fact, according to some studies the majority of American Jews don't even enter a synagogue during the High Holidays.
I will offer a few words of advice that can perhaps alleviate your challenges and help get more from the service and the High Holidays.
Firstly, five minutes of prayer said with understanding, feeling and emotion means far more than hours of lip-service. Don't look at the prayer book as an all-or-nothing proposition. Try looking at each page and prayer as a self-contained opportunity for reflection and inspiration. If a particular prayer doesn't speak to you, move on to the next one. Don't expect to be inspired by each and every prayer.
Read the prayers at your own pace, thinking about what you are saying, without being so concerned where the congregation is reading. You don't need to always be "on the same page" with everyone else. If a particular sentence or paragraph touches you, linger for a while, chew if over and digest it well, allowing the words to caress your soul. Apply that prayer to your own life and situation and use it as a connection to God. If you're really brave, close your eyes for a few minutes and meditate over those words for a while.
Don't let your lack of proficiency in Hebrew get you down; God understands English. Like a loving parent, He can discern what is in your heart in the language you express yourself.
By sitting in the synagogue (as opposed to the park!), you join millions of Jews around the world. You are Jew, and by joining hands with fellow Jews you are making a powerful statement about your commitment to Judaism and your place in the Jewish nation. The Midrash teaches that "there is no King without a Nation"; God’s greatness is most manifest when we join together, as a congregation of Jews to coronate the King on Rosh Hashanah.
If you're not a member anywhere and are looking for a comfortable place to pray which doesn't require much background, I am happy to inform you of "High Holiday Learner's Service" held in multiple locations across North America. (see www.nomembershiprequired.com) Interactive, explanatory services, held mostly in English, utilize a fresh, new approach; combining ongoing explanation, discussion and camaraderie with other bright, interested Jews who are seeking to add meaning and understanding to their High Holiday experience. Holiday meals and child care are also available to remove those concerns and make the most of the day. Check the website for a High Holiday Learner Service closest to you.