Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,
Although Rosh Hashanah doesn’t arrive until next week, we will begin the High Holiday Season at CBI this weekend. On Saturday evening at 8pm we’ll gather for Selichot services, and on Sunday afternoon at 2pm we’ll meet at the CBI cemetery in Clarksburg for our annual cemetery service.
Have you ever wondered what happens at Selichot or at the cemetery service? Here’s a brief description of both of them.
The word “selichot” is the plural form of the word for pardon or forgiveness. It’s the name given to a group of prayers that we recite together during each of the services of Yom Kippur, in which we seek forgiveness for our mis-steps. And it’s also the name given to the service that welcomes us into the Days of Awe.
On Saturday night we’ll begin with havdalah, the ritual that brings Shabbat to an end and ushers in the new week. We’ll sing some of the selichot prayers that will be the centerpiece of Yom Kippur in a couple of weeks. And we’ll take time to think about our mis-steps over the last year, and to write down anonymously things for which we seek forgiveness, places where we’ve missed the mark and want to do better in the year to come.
For me, what makes Selichot services meaningful is the return to beloved High Holiday melodies. “Return Again,” “Adon Ha-Selichot,” “Lach Amar Libi” — the words of these prayers speak to me, and over the years the melodies have become infused not only with the meaning of the words but with the experience of singing them fervently during these holy days. Singing these prayers at Selichot services begins to open my heart so that the High Holidays can do their work on me and in me.
After our short service we’ll adjourn to the social hall for a potluck dessert reception, so bring your favorite dessert and join us! Selichot services are at 8pm on Saturday at CBI.
It’s customary to meet at the cemetery on the Sunday before Rosh Hashanah for a short memorial service in which we remember our beloved dead who are buried there.
Like Selichot, this is something that happens in many places around the world on the weekend before the Days of Awe.
The service takes place in the afternoon, so it includes the prayers of mincha, the afternoon service. We’ll sing an abbreviated ashrei, and we’ll take time for a silent amidah, reflecting on the themes of our weekday requests. The heart of the service are the silent Yizkor prayers of remembrance, followed by the chanting of El Maleh Rachamim (“God, Full of Compassion”) and the recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddish.
The service is brief, usually lasting about 20 minutes, and afterward people stroll among the headstones and pay their respects to those who are buried there. (Here’s an excellent article from My Jewish Learning about why we put pebbles on graves.)
Even if your own ancestors are not buried in our cemetery, you are welcome to join us for this short service of remembrance before the new year. The cemetery service is at 2pm on Sunday at the CBI cemetery in Clarksburg. (Directions can be found on our website.)
I look forward to being with you soon.
Blessings to all —