Category Archives: Shemini Atzeret

Shavua tov and chag sameach again!

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Shavua tov / a good week to all — and chag sameach, wishing you a joyous Shemini Atzeret! (What’s Shemini Atzeret? I’m so glad you asked! Read all about it, and about this morning’s services.) Join us this morning at 10am for Shemini Atzeret services with Yizkor.


In Israel, and for Reform Jews across the world, today is also Simchat Torah.  At 4:15 all are welcome to join our Community Hebrew School for our celebration of Simchat Torah. We’ll say a few prayers, read a bit from Torah, sing songs, parade the Torah around the building (weather permitting) or at least around the sanctuary, and celebrate the wonderful teachings that are our inheritance! The service will be geared toward our Hebrew school kids but all ages are welcome.


Here are some commentaries from the URJ on the Torah portions for Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. And for those who would like to read more about these two holidays, here are posts from Velveteen Rabbi about Shemini Atzeret and about Simchat Torah.

Of course, this is also a week that will culminate in Shabbat.

return-to-shabbat Join us this coming Saturday morning for Shabbat morning services led by Rabbi Jarah Greenfield.  This week we’ll be reading from parashat Bereshit, the very beginning of the Torah. If you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, here are a few:

Here’s a lovely d’var Torah on this week’s portion from my friend and colleague Rabbi David Markus: False Starts and the Art of Renewal. And here are commentaries from the URJ: Bereshit at the URJ.

Many thanks to our shamashim, the members who host our Shabbat services each week. If you would like to join that group, please contact the office.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel


Sukkot Updates

Dear all,

Chag sameach – wishing you joy in this festival of Sukkot!


Our community Hebrew school enjoys our synagogue sukkah. You can too!

As a reminder: our synagogue sukkah is open to you. Come and use it anytime this week.

Please RSVP to the office for Friday night’s Shabbat / Sukkot potluck (5:30pm) so we know how many tables and chairs to set out.

Next Monday morning at 10am we’ll hold Shemini Atzeret services with Yizkor. You can read more about that here.

And next Monday afternoon at 4:15 all are welcome to join our Community Hebrew School for our celebration of Simchat Torah. We’ll say a few prayers, read a bit from Torah, sing songs, parade the Torah around the building (weather permitting) or at least around the sanctuary, and celebrate the wonderful teachings that are our inheritance! The service will be geared toward our Hebrew school kids but all ages are welcome.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

Join us on Monday to seal the holiday season

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

On Monday morning at 10am I will lead a service at CBI which will be the formal close, the “seal,” on our holiday season. Monday is the festival known as Shemini Atzeret. Shemini means “Eighth” — this holiday is the eighth day, coming right on the heels of the seventh day of Sukkot. But what is an atzeret?

The word atzeret means something like “holy pause.” There’s one other day in our tradition described with this word: Shavuot, which comes as the 50th day after 49 days of Counting the Omer. Shavuot is an atzeret, a day of holy pausing, the culmination of seven weeks of spiritual work. And Monday — Shemini Atzeret — is also a day of pausing, the culmination of the seven weeks of spiritual work we’ve done since Rosh Chodesh Elul, the beginning of the lunar month leading up to the Days of Awe.

Monday’s service will feature some morning prayers of gratitude and awareness, a guided meditation which will give us the opportunity to remember the last seven weeks of intensive holiday time, and the prayers of Yizkor, the memorial service which we recite four times a year. (I wrote more about that last year.) We’ll also dip into a special prayer for rain.

Our service will be intentionally spacious and uncluttered — in recognition of this special day which is like the silence following the song, the white space on the page which follows all of our holiday season’s many, many words.

Hope to see you on Friday night at 5:30 for our Sukkot / Shabbat potluck (please RSVP), on Saturday morning at 9:30 for Shabbat services, and on Monday morning at 10am for Shemini Atzeret.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

The fall festival season draws to its close

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Moadim l’simcha — I wish you joy in our festivals! I hope your Sukkot has been sweet thus far. We had a lovely Sukkot Shabbat potluck in the synagogue sukkah; a few photographs have been posted to the CBI Facebook page. Many thanks to all who joined us. This week we’ll journey through three final festival doorways: Hoshanna Rabbah, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah.

Hoshanna Rabbah means “The Great ‘Save Us!'” It is observed on the seventh day of Sukkot (that’s tomorrow.) On Hoshanna Rabbah, it’s customary to make seven hakafot (circles / circuits) around the synagogue sanctuary carrying our lulavim (the bundles of branches which we wave in all directions during Sukkot.) There’s also a very old custom of taking the willow branches from our lulavim and beating them against the ground as part of a prayer for rain; the falling willow leaves might represent the raindrops which we pray will fall in months to come. (This tradition, like many of our liturgical traditions, arose in the Middle East where rain never falls during the summer — but if rain doesn’t fall during the winter, then life can’t be sustained.)

Although we won’t have a formal service at CBI for Hoshanna Rabbah, you can take a moment to experience the poetic flavor of the day by reading these contemporary Hoshanot (prayers for salvation) written by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi: Hoshanot by Reb Zalman z”l.

Shemini Atzeret means “The Lingering of the Eighth Day.” One of my favorite Hasidic tradition holds that Shemini Atzeret is the day when God turns to us and says, “It’s been so sweet to spend the week of Sukkot with you; don’t go quite yet, can’t you linger a little longer?” On Shemini Atzeret, even though the seven days of Sukkot are over, we linger an extra day in the close presence of God. Shemini Atzeret is one of the four days of the year when we recite Yizkor, the service of memorial prayers which offer an opportunity for us to remember and reconnect with our beloved dead.

Rabbi Pam Wax will be leading a Shemini Atzeret morning service, with Yizkor, at 9:30am on Thursday morning. On Shemini Atzeret we recite special prayers for rain. (This is another liturgical tradition which arose in the Middle East, where winter rains are so precious and necessary.) Our morning service will feature several beautiful readings/prayers about rain/water/drought, etc. Environmentalists should come!

Simchat Torah is the final mini-festival in our fall festival cycle. Simchat Torah means “Rejoicing in the Torah,” and is the time when we rejoice in the completion of one Torah cycle and the beginning of another. Often we read the very end of the Torah followed by the very beginning of the Torah. Other customs include dancing the Torah scrolls around the room seven times. Our Thursday morning service will be a celebration of both Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, so there will be a lot of music, as well.  Weather permitting, we will be having our last meal in the sukkah after services. Rabbi Pam Wax will be bringing some food to share, but if you want to join us for a fuller meal please bring a brown-bag lunch.On Friday, our monthly spiritual discussion group will meet at 3pm in my office. We’ll speak together about what has opened up in us during this long stretch of festival time.I wish you continuing joy in the unfolding of our fall festival season.Blessings to all,Rabbi Rachel

What is Yizkor, Anyway?

yahrzeitDear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

On Yom Kippur morning (at the end of morning services), we’ll experience Yizkor — our memorial service during which we remember our beloveds who have died. Twelve days later, on Shemini Atzeret, we’ll experience Yizkor again (at our morning service led by Rabbi Pam Wax at 9am on Thursday 9/26.) What exactly is Yizkor, and why are we saying it twice in such rapid succession?

The word Yizkor means “Remember!” — and the service with that name is when we remember our beloved dead. We say the prayers of Yizkor four times a year. I follow the tradition which maps these four Yizkor services to the four seasons. Pesach – springtime. Shavuot – summertime. Autumn – Yom Kippur. Winter – Shemini Atzeret.

You may now be thinking: wait a minute. Winter?! Shemini Atzeret isn’t during the wintertime (especially not this year, when our holidays are so early on the Gregorian calendar!) Some sources suggest that the fourth repetition of Yizkor was originally meant to happen at midwinter… but because that’s the rainy season in Israel, and arduous winter travel could keep people from making it to Jerusalem to gather for this memorial remembrance, the sages of our tradition moved the wintertime Yizkor to that “extra day” at the end of Sukkot.

Shemini Atzeret means “the pause of the 8th day.” Sukkot (in Israel and in the Reform tradition of which we are a part) lasts for seven days. On the 8th day, our tradition teaches, God says to us: wait! don’t go! Linger with Me a little longer? We call that day “the pause,” or “the lingering,” of the 8th day. And it’s on that extra day after Sukkot, when Sukkot is over but we haven’t yet pulled away from God’s presence, that we recite Yizkor for the second time during this fall holiday season.

The experience of Yizkor is different at each of these holidays.

Of the Yom Kippur Yizkor, Rabbi Delphine Horvilleur writes: “For an entire day, through fast and introspection, we face our own mortality and dive into our deaths by playing the dead. But equally, we are the living who seek to reunite with those who are really dead. Yizkor arrives with the opportunity to summon our beloved ones who have left and to remember them. As we remember them, we should marvel at the fact that the relationships we had with them remain alive as long as we are alive to do the remembering.”

Of the Shemini Atzeret Yizkor, Rabbi Arthur Waskow writes: “On Sh’mini Atzeret we remember the dead in yizkor and then pray for water. Is our water prayer a plea for drops of rain alone — or also for tears, the ability to cry? Tears less exalted than those of Yom Kippur, less frightened than those of Tisha B’Av — but tears of memory and compassion?”

What Yizkor affirms for me is that our relationships with those we have loved (or perhaps not-loved) continue even when the person in question has died…and that there is wisdom in pausing, four times a year, to connect with memory and loss. There is deep spiritual wisdom in taking the time to remember.

My teacher Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi speaks of Yizkor as a “holy Skype call” — an opportunity to go inside, perhaps draped beneath one’s tallit, and call up the memory of the person we have lost, and imagine them before us face-to-face, and say whatever it is that we most need to say to that person at this moment in this year of our lives.

I hope you’ll join us for Yizkor: on Yom Kippur (probably around noon, though it follows immediately upon our morning service, so the best way to be sure you’ll make it to Yizkor is to come to morning davenen!) and on Shemini Atzeret, that day of holy pausing and lingering just a little bit longer — with God, with this festival season, and with those whom we have lost but will never forget.

Rabbi Rachel

For more on Yizkor:

Guest post: Rabbi Pam Wax on the beauty of Yizkor, the memorial service

For many years, I taught Introduction to Judaism classes in New York City. These were generally 20 or 30 week classes that covered the gamut of Jewish holidays, theology, history, and lifecycle events. Undoubtedly, I found that the classes on Shabbat and on Death were the topics that I most loved to teach and that I believed had the most potential to intrigue, excite and enlighten non-Jews and religiously uneducated Jews about the uniqueness of Judaism.

It is obvious that Shabbat has made a comeback in the last few years, even in the secular world. The idea of “unplugging” for one day a week is conversation du jour in our increasingly electronic world, and the recognition of a day of rest from the rat-race has been advocated and championed beyond religious communities. In a world that once- upon-a-time had no “days off,” Judaism created one. Thank God!

Likewise, we should thank God for the beautiful traditions we have for honoring our beloved dead. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said that “if death has no meaning, then life is absurd.” I believe that we can keep life meaningful by revisiting our dead on the sacred occasions that our tradition has outlined for us to come together as community to do so. Yizkor, the memorial service, (meaning “Remember!” in a command form) is a foundational Jewish ritual that connects us to our ancestors, to community, and to our Jewish faith. Four times a year as the Jewish calendar revolves from season to season, we are given the opportunity to reflect upon those who gave us life, both physically and spiritually. And each holiday imparts a slightly different nuance to that commemoration.

At Yom Kippur, we stand naked before God. Yizkor at that holiday may seem the most powerful both because of the awesome nature of the day as well as because of the numbers of people who surround us, sharing in that sense of universal loss, longing and grief for those who no longer live and breathe among us. As it is the day when we ask forgiveness from God, it is appropriate that this yizkor is the day we also ask forgiveness of our beloved dead or offer it to them. An appropriate meditation for this Yom Kippur yizkor meditation would be to consider what we need to forgive our beloved dead for, or what we need to ask forgiveness for.

Only days later, however, we have another yizkor service, this time on Shemini Atzeret, at the conclusion of the Sukkot holiday. Sukkot is z’man simchateinu, the time of our joy and gratitude for the blessings in our life, so I have the sense that our communing with our dead on this holiday is about sharing joy, letting them know how it is that we are reaping joy in our own lives.

An appropriate meditation for this Shemini Atzeret yizkor service could be: I want to tell you about the blessings in my life right now, and the simchas that you have missed. I wish you were here to share them.

At the conclusion of Passover, we have yet another yizkor service, this one colored by “the empty seat at the seder table,” where we may have made Mom’s or Grandma’s matzo kugel or used her silverware, or told Uncle Joe’s joke, even though they were only with us through this spiritual legacy. So on this Passover commemoration of yizkor, I

have the sense that we commune with our dead through the legacy of traditions that our beloved dead passed down to us, the stories (haggadah means story) they told, the ways we still keep them close through memory and tradition.

An appropriate meditation for this Passover yizkor service might be: What traditions did you bring to your Passover seder this year that were inspired by your beloved dead? How did you invoke them on this holiday? In your mind’s eye, thank them for the memories and traditions that that they have inspired in your own Passover practice.

Only seven weeks later, we have a fourth yizkor service of the year at Shavuot. Shavuot is the holiday of the giving of Torah, the giving of the values and commandments by which we Jews are meant to live our lives. On this yizkor commemoration, I have the sense that we are revisiting the values that were passed down to us generation to generation – the “how we are to live” message that was bequeathed to us by our ancestors, the messages that were both explicit and implicit in how they lived their lives.

An appropriate meditation for this Shavuot yizkor service could be: What “commandments”/values did your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles pass on to you that make you who you are today? In your mind’s eye, thank them for these gifts.

I am concerned that our connection to memory as a unique feature of Judaism has been eroding. Except for Yom Kippur, Jews, especially younger Jews, don’t seem to have that sense of commitment to honoring their beloved dead through the tradition of yizkor. Part of this is connected to our lack of familiarity with the flow of the Jewish calendar and the nuanced blessings that come with each of them. I believe that yizkor at each holiday time should share the flavor and message of that particular holiday, and I am grateful to Rabbi Marcelo Bronstein at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Manhattan for modeling this kind of yizkor experience. He would offer the quiet time and reflective space during yizkor for us to actually speak to our dead in our mind’s eye, making it a very powerful and personal experience each and every time.

I think there is further work to be done to revitalize yizkor and holiday services at CBI. I will be leading the Shemini Atzeret and yizkor service at Congregation Beth Israel on Monday, October 8 at 9:00 AM. Please join us.

— Rabbi Pam Wax