From the Rabbi: About High Holiday Honors

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Believe it or not, the Days of Awe are only a few short months away. Because we haven’t had a leap year in a while, the holidays are very early this year. We’ll begin with Selichot services on August 31, and Rosh Hashanah will follow a few short days later. (A full schedule of High Holiday activities will be in the next edition of the CBI NEWSletter.)

One of the things I’m working on, therefore, is the task we call “assigning honors.” A few people asked me last year how we choose the people who participate in our services, so I’m writing to share some information about how this works at CBI.

During the year at CBI, we don’t typically assign any honors. But because our High Holiday services draw a bigger crowd and tend to be more formal than our Shabbat worship, we do assign parts in the services beforehand. We assign people the tasks of opening and closing the ark, or reading a prayer in English or Hebrew, or lighting festival candles. We call these “honors,” because being part of co-creating our community’s High Holiday worship is meant to be an honor rather than an onerous obligation.

Here at CBI, we most often invite people who have been active volunteers in the community to be honored in this way. Sometimes these honors are given to board or committee members who’ve worked hard during the year now ending. Sometimes honors are given to new members, as a way of welcoming them into our community; or to people who have experienced a personal loss or a major simcha (joyous occasion) during the year now ending, as a kind of chatimah or seal on the year and its emotional and spiritual impact.

Please know that we don’t offer honors based on fiscal contribution, and that we do our best not to offer them to the same few people year after year! Please know also that I welcome your suggestions for who we should honor through high holiday worship participation — including you, yourself.

If you would like to participate in our High Holiday services in some way, please reach out to me and I will gladly find a place for you. You can let me know whether you’d prefer a non-speaking part (opening the ark?) or a speaking part (reading a prayer?) — and whether you’d prefer to volunteer for one particular service over another. Either I, or a member of the religious practices committee, will get back to you as soon as possible.

I hope this has made our process slightly less opaque. I look forward to seeing you all summer long as the Days of Awe draw nearer!


Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

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