Moving Towards Days of Awe

The High Holidays Changed forever, for me, a few years ago when i spent neilah with a friend and mentor who was fighting cancer. Stefan had taken me on to work at the ACLU while I was in high school and helped me think more systematically about the fight for justice. Still in the prime of life, he had a grim prognosis.
The neilah liturgy, like much of the High Holiday liturgy, talks about gates closing and we plead to be included in the book of life. This had always been very vague for me, but here i was, signing the plaintive melodies with a teacher whose gates were literally closing and for whom one more year of being inscribed in the book of life would be miraculous and unlikely. He was courageous; I was not. Seeing him ask for another year made me question whether I was worthy of one, what i had done the previous year, and what i would do if by some (natural or supernatural) fluke i got another year to live. Every year as I move towards the High Holidays i try to refocus and consider the tough issues of breaking myself down and doing honest repentance. Every year I have trouble, and Stefan helps me figure it out. This year was no different as This past saturday night is the night that ashkenazi jews traditionally hold selichot services.
After just over two years of steady improvements to erev Shabbat meetings, Tikkun Leil Shabbat decided to experiment with various non-Friday-night services. The first of these was a slichot service this past Saturday night. One of the founders of TLS new the nusach and taught it to another core member who was excited to help coordinate.*
After splicing together bits of several machzorim (put out by Orthodox, Conservative, and Recon coordinating bodies) and booking space in the Reform Movement’s Religious Action center, the stage was set for a trans-denominational experience.

We had a dessert potluck and then three simultaneous learning sessions framed around Tefilah/Prayer, Teshuva/Repentance, and Tzedakah/Just Action. Ethan led a musical workshop on the thirteen attributes of god text (adonai, adonai, el rachum vechanun…). Eli led a discussion /hevruta based workshop on Rav Kook‘s taxonomy of teshuvah. Laura led a creative/art based workshop focused on our past and future relationships with tzedakah. Unfortunately, due to a hellish week, i had been hard at work since havdalah on finishing the transliterating and copying of the packets. i should have given them to Kinkos, but it turned out fine.
A bit after 11pm services started. Eli led them and they were a gorgeous combination of favorite tunes, haunting high holiday tunes, and tunes i hadn’t ever heard before. We sprinkled English poetry in among the hebrew piyutim (Hebrew or Amaramaic liturgical poems). The folks we shared poetry and stories from varied from contemporary poets like Marge Piercy to and 18th century Hassidic figure, The Maggid of Dubno.
I wish we could have included more but alas, the hour was late. Nonetheless the service was beautiful, haunting, and a great first move away from our normal, K”Sh/Maariv/Dvar tikkun/Potluck model.
*Full disclosure, i love slichot and co-coordinated as well.
x-posted at http://divinityisinthedetails.blogspot.com/.

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