Spiritual Preparation for the High Holy Days

The “High Holy Days” or– the “Days of Awe” refer to Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement ten days after.  How do you prepare for the Days of Awe?  What do the High Holy Days mean to you?  Whether you are jewish or not, you can use these days for reflection, ritual, celebration, atonement, justice, and engagement…

It is powerful and affective to take a ten day period each year to celebrate the New Year, reflect on past mistakes, acknowledge them inwardly and outwardly, set intentions for the coming year, and move on.  That is what the “Days of Awe” are all about.  It is a way to draw a line in the sands of time and become a better person.

All Jewish rituals revolve around the moon cycle.  That means, all the holidays land at different times each year.  This year,  the High Holy Days seem to be coming so soon.  It seems like just a few days ago I was summering in New Hampshire at the Waldorf Teacher Training, learning (among other things) how to carve alabaster… now here I am, back in SF, at choir rehearsal, getting ready for the big Days of Awe.

Spiral and rams horn forms in alabaster.

Hebrew letter Shin/Shell form in alabaster…..

When I was growing up, we always took off from school and work and got all dressed up and went to temple.  Will you dress up?  Get something new?

This custom sterling silver, 18K gold and Tahitian Pearl Necklace may be the special something you’d like to wear this year at the High Holy Days…..

Rosh Hashanah is considered a time of celebration — similar to any New Year’s celebration.  It is customary to eat apples dipped in honey to signify the hope of a sweet year.  Special honey cake and challah bread with sweet golden raisins is baked in the form of a spiral, instead of the traditional braid, so as to indicate the round cycle of the year.  Toward the end of the Rosh Hashanah prayer service, a shofar (ram’s horn) is blown to loudly mark the beginning of the High Holy Days or Days of Awe.  On the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah, a lovely ritual is (Tashlikh) to break bread into the ocean or body of water, thereby washing away our sins of the year.

On the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we are instructed to think long and hard about our past year.  How did it go?  Did we loose any loved ones this year?  Have we come into contact with our own mortality?  These Holy Days can be bittersweet, especially if we are missing a dear loved one at this time.  There are special services to honor the dead coming on Yom Kippur..  We light a ritual memorial candle in their honor.

This Yarzeit Memorial Candle is a beautiful way to commemorate ancestors during the High Holy Days and beyond.  The candle (included) burns 24 hours, the light forms a shadow mandala around the cup.

Once we’ve spent time looking back, it is customary to find those people who we may have hurt over the past year, directly acknowledge our missteps, and apologize to them before Yom Kippur.   If someone has hurt you, tell them.  Work it out!

It is also an obligation, as part of repentance,  to give (tzedakah) time or money to charitable causes, and food to the poor.  This is all a part of renewing or returning your soul to its pure state.  This process is not always easy!


This Justice Tzedakah Box is an elegant and meaningful way to embellish the tradition of giving Tzedakah.

Finally, Yom Kippur arrives. It is the culmination of the past 10 days.  The literal translation is “Day of Forgiveness”, although the more commonly used translation is “Day of Atonement”.   On Yom Kippur some people wear white and refrain from eating or drinking from sundown the night before to sundown the night of — approximately 24 hours.  By this time you may have already apologized to the people around you that you may have hurt.  Now it’s time to apologize to God for crimes against yourself, nature and the powers that be.  It is also time to look toward the upcoming year and set your intentions.  How will you improve next year?  What are your spiritual goals?

This year and every year, take time to take care of those you love– life is short.  At this time of great darkness, I would like to offer my prayers to the end of hate and cruelty in the world, and wish for a coming together of humanity to take care of the earth and all who dwell here.  Even if you are not Jewish, you can join us in this time of introspection, gratitude and awe.  Contact me directly for tickets to High Holy Day Services and Congregation Beth Israel Judeain San Francisco.

With Love and Gratitude,

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