by Rabbi Daniel S. Kaiman
Around this time every year, one book flies off my shelf. I’ve read it before and by this point, its pages are dog-eared, the spine is broken, and there’s a rhythm to its language that I could parrot back on command. For me, this is one of those rare works that despite its utter consistency, I continue to find meaning in the message and presentation.
The book is Rabbi Alan Lew’s This Is Real and You are Completely Unprepared, and it is very much a guidebook for the holiest days of the Jewish year. Drawing on his fluency in mindfulness and meditation and deep connection to traditional Jewish practice, Lew demonstrates how we can understand these Days of Awe as a journey of transformation.
Importantly, Lew notes that the High Holiday days don’t just begin on the first evening of Rosh Ha-Shanah when one steps into the Synagogue for the first time. Rather, to reach deep into the wellspring of Jewish thought, we are encouraged to see this period on the Jewish calendar as an integrated set of steps and practices. If we adhere to this framework, we may find ourselves looking more closely at our own lives as we connect with community and family during this significant time of the year.
The holiday season means many different things to many different people. For some, the familiar and dramatic sounds of a cantor’s voice resonating through the sanctuary defines the holidays. For others, it’s the aroma of brisket and honey cake wafting through the house as the celebratory season draws near. All of this, and more, connects us to ancient traditions, new ways of thinking and a sacred way of marking time as a community.
Yet, in the title to his book, Rabbi Lew reminds us of an important lesson. We are all living real lives, and the actions we take are consequential and meaningful. In order for moments of significance to present themselves in our lives, we have to do the real work of preparation. Maybe that means starting your shopping list now. Some of you may put the Synagogue’s High Holiday CD into your car stereo.
And if you’re the reading and reflective type, you may want to pick up a copy of Lew’s book yourself. However you approach this holiday season, know that there’s work to be done. We’re all getting ready for transformation, let’ remember to prepare together.
Wishing you and yours a meaningful High Holiday season.