Although time often seems to pass by at lightning speed, we are still in the middle of summer, so I hope you’re relaxing, getting some (but not too much) sun, having fun with family and friends, and eating your fill of ice cream – which can make any day feel like a vacation! (My family and I know this statement is true because we ate it every day during our visit to Cape Cod earlier this season.)
This year, as always, the High Holidays will arrive right on time – on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. On the Gregorian calendar, though, we consider them “late,” since Rosh HaShanah won’t begin this year until the end of September.
In Hebrew, the High Holidays are referred to as “Yamim Nora-im,” usually translated as “Days of Awe.” But, according to the language’s grammar rules (of which I'm an unapologetic fan and nerd) this translation is not quite accurate. Without going into all the nitty-gritty details, it really means "awesome days."
Certainly Days of Awe is a great way to think of the season because when we are in awe of something, or it is awe-inspiring, that's a good thing. In Hebrew, that word for "awe" also is used in a negative sense, as in “fearsome.” I suppose there's an element of fear, too, as we turn inward to examine the times we might not have been our best selves and ask for forgiveness, hoping it happens before the "closing of the gates" during the N'ilah service at the end of Yom Kippur. That can be scary.
But I like “Awesome Days” so much better. Although there are some uncomfortable aspects to this time of year, both physical and spiritual (think fasting and repenting), the High Holidays are certainly awesome. Indeed, from the beauty of the Torahs and the bimah all decked out in white to the special melodies used by the choir and the cantor, the rabbi’s carefully crafted sermons, the thoughtful remarks lay leaders share, and the joy of seeing friends whom, perhaps, we haven’t seen all summer, it is a time in which, to quote the Lego Movie, "Everything is awesome."
As the director of education in my congregation, I love so many different aspects of the High Holidays – planning with our team for the children's programming, chanting Torah, greeting people in the lobby, and joining my entire family – including my granddaughter – at the closing service on Yom Kippur before we (very) informally break the fast together at home. Most of all, I love welcoming students back to religious school at this season and wishing them and their parents happy and healthy Awesome Days!