An invitation into four practices for the Days of Awe

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

We’ve entered the month of Elul; Rosh Hashanah is four short weeks away!

There are four practices which especially enrich my spiritual life during the high holiday season. I’m writing to invite you to join me in any and/or all of them.

The first practice is attending Selichot services, this year on Saturday 9/8. And this year we’re doing something extra-special — a staged reading of poet Merle Feld’s play The Gates Are Closing, directed by David Lane! The play is at 6pm and will be followed by a brief havdalah ritual (formally ending Shabbat) and a very short-and-sweet Selichot experience designed to open our hearts to the process of teshuvah, atonement or re/turning-toward-God. Then we’ll socialize over dessert and coffee. This is one of my favorite services of the year. It’s a beautiful way to begin the Days of Awe, and this year’s play is going to make it even more special.

The second practice is immersion in water before Yom Kippur, which we’ll offer on Tuesday September 25 at 9:30am at a private swimming pool in Williamstown. There’s a Jewish tradition of immersing in “living waters” before Shabbat and festivals, to spiritually purify oneself in preparation for the celebration to come. On the morning which will become Yom Kippur, I’ll lead a short-and-sweet mikveh ritual to help participants shed the baggage of the old year and emerge into the new year feeling spiritually refreshed and renewed. (The ritual I’m leading is for women only; if there are men interested in a parallel ritual, I’m happy to offer guidance.)

Please bring your own towel, and please rsvp ( so we know how many participants to expect.

The third practice is wearing white on Yom Kippur. White symbolizes purity, which reminds us that Yom Kippur is a day dedicated to purifying our souls. White is the color of wedding dresses and also the color of our burial shrouds, reminding us of some of life’s important promises and also of life’s ultimate impermanence. Some say that wearing white is meant to awaken our angelic nature. White reminds us of the statement in Isaiah (1:18) that our sins will be made “as white as snow.”

I’ll be wearing white all through Yom Kippur, as will our cantorial soloist David Curiel. If you find meaning in this idea, I hope you’ll feel welcome to join us.

And the fourth practice is doing a little bit of gentle restorative yoga on Yom Kippur afternoon, to help me open my body and my heart to the experience of the day. We plan again to offer a gentle yoga practice on the afternoon of Yom Kippur, starting at 3pm, before our afternoon mincha service. The yoga practice will be suitable for those who are fasting.

The Sanskrit word “yoga” can be translated as “union,” as in reaching a sense of the unity of all creation; it can also be translated as “yoke,” as in something which binds us to one another. Yom Kippur is a day for union with the One and for mindfully and joyously accepting the “yoke” of Jewish practice. Many communities offer restorative yoga on Yom Kippur; I’m delighted that this year, we will once again be one of them.

If you have questions or comments about any of these, please don’t hesitate to ask me. And please remember that these are options, not obligations; if they don’t speak to you, feel free to skip them.

May your Days of Awe be meaningful and sweet! I look forward to seeing you at CBI.

Take care,

Reb Rachel


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