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Asking the Clergy: What gives you the most joy during the Jewish High Holidays?

From left, Rabbi Tuvia Teldon of Chabad Lubavitch

From left, Rabbi Tuvia Teldon of Chabad Lubavitch of Long Island, Rabbi Jack Dermer of Merrick Jewish Centre and Rabbi Helayne Shalhevet of Temple Beth Emeth of Mount Sinai. Photo Credit: Composite:" Chabad.org; Tori Maidenberg Naaman; Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

The celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, takes place from sunset on Sept. 29 to nightfall on Oct. 1. Judaism’s High Holidays continue with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, from Oct. 8 into the following evening. This week’s clergy discuss their emotional connection to the 10-day period marked with joy, solemnity and spiritual renewal.

Rabbi Tuvia Teldon

Regional director, Chabad Lubavitch of Long Island

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are powerful holidays — marinated with strong emotions, surrounded by meaningful prayers and filled with lofty blessings. The customs, the food, the community gatherings, the family reunions and the sound of the shofar all contribute to make it a truly rich experience.

At the very end of Yom Kippur every year in the sanctuary of the Lubavitcher rebbe in Brooklyn, the whole congregation would break into intense song and dance. It was like a victory march; a confirmation of our renewed relationship with God and our hopes for the future.

After 24 hours of fasting and praying, the 70-plus-year-old rebbe would take the lead by standing on his chair and dancing in his place. This would last for some 10 to 15 minutes, and we would be totally exhilarated and exhausted by the end. The joy was amazing. This custom is still practiced at every Chabad service around the world (except for the rabbi standing on the chair), and it fills me with joy.

May you all be "sealed" for a sweet New Year.  

Rabbi Helayne Shalhevet

Temple Beth Emeth of Mount Sinai

The High Holidays offer us the opportunity to examine our relationship with our Creator, to explore the relationships we have with other people and to look deeper within ourselves. In fact, they are a time given to us when we are instructed to pause for a moment to examine every aspect of our lives.

The part about the High Holidays that gives me the most joy is that as a rabbi, I am given the opportunity to navigate others through this process — a process for which we would not otherwise allow ourselves the time. It is that as an individual, I am gifted — commanded by tradition — to undergo the process myself.

Through this process we can enter the New Year refreshed, reinvigorated and renewed.

Rabbi Jack Dermer

Merrick Jewish Centre

A lovely question, though if I may be so bold, there is a bit more to the story. While it’s true that all of our holidays bring us together to feel the joy of connection to God, family and community, the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are about much more than mere celebration.

These days are called in our tradition, the Days of Awe. This is a season not simply of feeling content and joyful, but on the contrary, of looking honestly at our lives and recognizing the ways in which we need to grow spiritually. The sound of the shofar, the ram’s horn, is one of the distinguishing ritual features of these Days of Awe. Its call is meant to awaken us, to shake us from our routine and habit, and propel us forward into the year with newfound energy and a deeper commitment to our values.

Joy? Absolutely. But not the joy of gifts and merriment. Rather, this season helps us to feel a joy that is found only in reaching higher, praying more deeply and coming closer to the people that God wants us to be in the year ahead.

DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS you’d like Newsday to ask the clergy? Email them to LILife@newsday.com; or send by mail to Asking the Clergy, LI Life, Newsday, 6 Corporate Center Dr., Melville, NY 11747. Find more LI Life stories at newsday.com/LILife.

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